A dozen chickens in a coop in Amanda Shearstone’s backyard usually spend their time laying eggs or pecking at the ground, looking for food. Shearstone has had the birds since 2020, but she’s unsure how much longer she can keep them.

Last year, she received a letter from Worcester officials, telling her the city prohibits residents from keeping chickens in their yards.

“I’ve kind of just been fighting it ever since,” Shearstone said. “It’s something I know people are passionate about and I know that they want. So why not be a voice for them?”

Shearstone has kept her birds while she petitions Worcester to create an ordinance that would allow residents to raise chickens in their yards. She’s collected more than 50 signatures, but some city officials worry that the chickens could attract rodents and coyotes and the ordinance could force Worcester to devote resources to monitoring residents’ coops.

City officials are currently reviewing the potential impacts of allowing chickens in residents’ backyards. Shearstone argues the advantages of raising chickens outweigh the drawbacks.

Amid rising food prices, chickens would give residents access to fresh eggs that they don’t have to pay for at markets. The process of growing and consuming eggs locally also releases fewer carbon emissions than buying eggs at the grocery store that are shipped in from farms, Shearstone said.

Other benefits of the ordinance could include helping control the spread of lyme disease and mosquito-transmitted illnesses since chickens eat ticks and mosquitos. Shearstone said the birds also eat food scraps, which could help reduce Worcester’s trash output.

“My daughter…hates the ends of her sandwich. She rips them all off, and it’s peanut butter and jelly. I throw it in [the coop] and they love it,” Shearstone said.

Worcester Chickens 2
Amanda Shearstone stands in front of the chicken coop in her backyard on July 19, 2022.
Sam Turken GBH News

As of 2020, 71 localities — including Somerville, Boston and Newton — already have some form of a policy that permits people to raise chickens, according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association. Shearstone said she wants to model Worcester’s ordinance off of Somerville’s, which mandates that people regularly clean their coops and prohibits them from owning roosters, which tend to be noisier than hens.

Those regulations have convinced members of Worcester’s planning board that a similar ordinance could work in Worcester. During a June meeting, members of the board discussed Shearstone’s petition and declared themselves part of “Team Chicken.”

“If Somerville can do it as the most densely populated city in the state, there’s no reason why Worcester can’t do it,” board member Edward Moynihan said.

Still, similar petitions in Worcester in the past have failed to receive approval from City Council. A proposal last year, for example, was deemed by some officials as too vague.

Multiple Worcester city councilors already have raised concerns about the latest petition. During a City Council meeting in early August, councilors George Russell and Morris Bergman asked the Worcester Department of Health and Human Services to produce a report on potential impacts of the ordinance.

Bergman told GBH News he’s concerned the chickens will attract rats and coyotes, arguing that “if coyotes could vote, they’d be voting for the chicken ordinance.” Bergman added the city will have to ensure people aren’t raising roosters and are regularly cleaning their coops to prevent them from smelling. That could take up limited city resources, which could be used toward initiatives like checking Worcester’s aging housing stock for code violations.

“I’d certainly rather see those moneys go towards making sure people have a safe dwelling to live in than monitoring whether or not among the chickens is a rooster,” Bergman said. “[The chicken ordinance] creates a whole host of what I believe are nonessential problems for a city.”

But Shearstone argued people who raise chickens in their backyards will have a natural incentive to keep their coops clean and prevent them from smelling. There are also ways to build coops that prevent coyotes from attacking the chickens.

Indeed, Somerville officials told GBH News the city’s experience with the chicken ordinance has been smooth. When there’s a case where someone’s chickens may be attracting rodents, city workers instruct the resident to clean the coop and secure their chicken feed.

Shearstone said she’s willing to be flexible and work with the city on details of the ordinance. And if the ordinance fails to receive City Council approval, she’ll agree to give the birds away. But despite some councilors’ concerns, she said if residents have enough property to build a coop with chickens, they should be able to.

“I don’t see any reason that there can’t be chickens in Worcester,” she said.