Catoosa County releases draft ordinance for backyard chickens

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton /  One of 11 chickens sits behind chicken wire at a home in Catoosa County on Sept. 2.
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / One of 11 chickens sits behind chicken wire at a home in Catoosa County on Sept. 2.

An ordinance to regulate backyard chickens in Catoosa County neighborhoods has been drafted, but several of the county's chicken advocates said the proposal is too restrictive.

Dubbed the "chicken wars" by some advocates, the controversy over the legality of backyard chickens began in the spring. After chicken advocates organized and many testified at County Commission meetings over several months, officials decided to stop investigating backyard chicken complaints until the law could be clarified.

County residents can submit comments and suggestions about the proposed ordinance, said Chris Harris, a county attorney, and also attend a public hearing Jan 24. at the county's Planning Commission meeting.

Harris wrote the proposed ordinance based on researching several municipalities but said in a phone interview it was mainly based on the law in Oconee County, near Athens, Georgia.

(READ MORE: Catoosa County residents looking for resolution to 'chicken war')

In an email, John Pless, Catoosa County spokesman, said county officials will accept public comments until Jan. 10, emphasizing that the draft ordinance is a work in progress.

Pless said residents can send comments or suggestions to or call 706-965-3787.

The proposed ordinance for single-family residential areas allows female chickens but not roosters. Three hens are allowed for residential lots an acre or smaller, and another chicken is allowed every 21,780 square feet (half an acre) over an acre.

The hens must be kept inside their coop or enclosure at all times, the draft ordinance stipulates. The coop, a roofed structure with protection from the weather and predators, must be secure, and also required is a fenced or wired-in outside exercise area.

Among other requirements, the coop must also be screened from neighbors by a fence or landscaping and not cause an odor, noise or pest nuisance. Also, any coop more than 100 square feet must have a building permit from the county's planning and zoning office.

"The draft ordinance does contemplate some sort of fee structure, but ultimately, that would be at the direction of the Board of Commissioners if they decide to pass something," Harris said.

No specific price for a permit was mentioned in the draft ordinance.

The County Commission doesn't have the authority to override neighborhood covenants and restrictions, Harris added.

The Planning Commission will probably make a recommendation to the County Commission about the draft ordinance at that January meeting, or it could "start from scratch," Harris said. Ultimately, the County Commission will make the final decision about backyard chickens, he said.

Harris said he hasn't received much feedback about the draft ordinance so far but said what he heard at a recent Planning Commission meeting was mostly negative.

Adrianne Kittle, a resident of Ringgold, submitted her own proposal for regulating backyard chickens in September that would allow 24 backyard chickens. Her proposal also addresses other issues related to sustainability and property rights.

"They (the county) only want to allow three chickens," said Kittle, a resident of Ringgold, "which doesn't really help anyone if they want to have chickens for eggs."

A chicken doesn't lay an egg every day, so three chickens will only produce an egg or two every couple of days, Kittle said. For a family of five, she said she thinks about a dozen chickens would provide enough eggs.

Kittle said the issue isn't really about chickens -- instead, it's about property rights. She said there are about 50 or 60 in her group advocating for backyard chickens and property rights -- and others attend County Commission meetings as well.

(READ MORE: Raising chickens a popular pandemic pastime in Chattanooga area)

Another advocate, Nick Ware, had concerns that the draft ordinance allows a property inspection if a chicken complaint is received by the county planning and zoning office. He said at the recent Planning Commission meeting that a property inspection violates his constitutional rights.

(READ MORE: What you need to know before panic-buying chickens)

Harris said he grew up in the area and said he has seen backyard chickens as a new trend in Catoosa County over the past 10 or 20 years. Legislation is needed to balance the concerns of neighbors with residents who want backyard chickens, he said.

"It's maybe part of a larger trend that was accelerated by COVID," Harris said. "It's food security: People want to know where things are coming from that they're eating. There's more of an interest, certainly, in that."

Contact Andrew Wilkins at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.

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