Secret Chickens in the River City


Several days ago, I overheard a fascinating conversation between a store clerk and her customer. It seems the customer and his family are keeping chickens in their backyard. He described the joys of living with these birds: his kids love them, the eggs are flavorful and fresh; and the chickens help manage the bug population in his vegetable garden. The family’s chicken experience has been so successful that, according to this man, several of his neighbors have also started keeping their own backyard chickens. It is, of course, a surreptitious activity. When I called the city later that day to check on city ordinances regarding chicken ownership, the city operator said, simply, “keeping livestock within the city limits is not legal.” It was clear that the man knew what he was doing was not allowed, yet he felt this small slice of country living within the city limits was worth the risk of being caught. It got me wondering how many secret chicken (and livestock) keepers there are in the city limits.

Apparently we are not alone in the River City when it comes to an interest in chicken keeping – check out (“dedicated to promoting backyard chickens in urban residential landscapes”) and (“a web site to encourage city folks to take the plunge into poultry!”), both fascinating reads for anyone interested in this activity – which, by the way, is not illegal in some (more chicken-friendly) cities. In Berkeley, for example (according to, chickens must be kept “penned and 30 ft. away from any bedrooms.” And in Davis, notes the website, residents can keep a “total of not more than six chicken hens and you have to keep them penned no less than 40 ft. from neighboring houses.”

Sacramento city residents who have a hankering for newly-laid eggs (legal ones, that is), can find them at our local farmers’ markets (see for a market near you) or at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, 1900 Alhambra Boulevard
Sacramento, (916) 455-2667.