The Common Law

Austin's Urban Livestock Movement – Chickens & Goats Anyone?

By Luke Ellis, Fri., Aug. 6, 2010

Austin's Urban Livestock Movement – Chickens & Goats Anyone?

One of my neighbors recently got chickens (I can hear them all the time), and I've heard there's a famous goat in South Austin. What are the rules about the kinds of critters I can keep in my Austin backyard?

In the continued spirit of keeping Austin weird, more residents are entertaining the idea of adding animals that are typically associated with rural settings to Austin's urban paradise. Raising chickens in urban or suburban environments has become a significant trend that reflects the grow local/eat local movement seen in urban areas all over the country.

But before you rush off and buy your first chicken, goat, or cow, you should become very familiar with relevant Austin city ordinances, especially Chapters 3-1 and 3-2, which provide the basic framework for maintaining livestock in Austin and will let you know what type of animal, if any, you can put in your backyard.

Austin ordinances define fowl to include chickens, turkeys, geese, guinea hens, and ducks. An enclosure to keep two or more fowl must be located at least 50 feet from a residence or business, excluding the residence or business of the fowl's owner or handler.

Austin ordinances define livestock to include horses, mules, jacks, jennets, cows, bull steers, hogs, pigs, swines, sheep, and goats, excluding miniature breeds. As a general rule, an enclosure used to keep livestock must be located at least 100 feet from adjoining residentially zoned property and at least 50 feet from a structure used for human habitation. There are some exceptions to the general rule that reduce the minimum distance from the animal enclosure to a structure used for human habitation. For example, an enclosure used to keep only one livestock animal weighing less than 200 pounds must be located at least 10 feet from a house. Similarly, an enclosure used to keep one or two female or neutered male miniature livestock (defined as meeting the published breed definition of "miniature"), also only needs a minimum 10-foot distance from the enclosure to a house.

The provisions mentioned above are just a few examples of the requirements and restrictions for maintaining livestock in the city of Austin. Austin owners of livestock should also be wary of noise (the animal can't make frequent or long, continued noise that is disturbing to a person of normal sensibilities) and must provide proper care (basic shelter, sanitary conditions, etc.). Be sure to read all the relevant city ordinances (www.amlegal.com/austin_tx) so you can determine whether owning the barnyard animal of your dreams makes sense given your circumstances.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Johns, Marrs, Ellis. & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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