Council endorses pilot program allowing backyard hens in town

November 21, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

It was one local resident’s ‘clucky’ day on Monday (Nov. 18) after Orangeville Council agreed to look into the possibility of running a pilot program that would allow backyard hens in town. 

Ever since Max Waters moved back to Orangeville with her family last year, she’s felt there’s been something missing from her life. 

“We love Orangeville. We love being within walking distance of everything in town, we love being able to maintain one family the vehicle. The only thing that is missing for me, living in Orangeville, is chickens,” Ms. Waters told Citizen. 

The practice of keeping chickens in backyards has boomed in Canada in recent years. Cities such as Vancouver, Whitehorse and Halifax have recently passed bylaws allowing residents to keep hens. Locally, municipalities like Caledon, Newmarket, Guelph and Kitchener have also thrown their support behind the initiative. 

Ms. Waters presented a petition signed by more than 180 local residents asking that Orangeville consider allowing urban hens. 

“Why does this matter to me, and why should it matter to you? Laying hens are a great way to teach children about food. I would love to be able to have chickens in my backyard, so my daughter and I can collect eggs together, talk about where food comes from, talk about respect for animals, and talk about the food chain,” Ms. Waters noted.

“The reality is, pasture-raised eggs are healthier than factory-farmed eggs. Other benefits – chickens can suppress pests such as ticks, which is becoming a pretty big issue as climate change progresses,” Ms. Waters added. “Hens are a gateway animals to greener living. They create fertilizer, which in turn encourages gardening, which in turn encourages physical activity, which makes you think about what you’re pulling from your garden and cooking. It allows people to rely less on big agriculture.”

Having studied the Town’s official plan, strategic plan and Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan (SNAP), Ms. Waters found areas within each that would benefit through Council’s approval of urban hens. She presented some big “mythbusters”, which she says shoots down some of the common fears brought forth by individuals against allowing backyard chickens.

“Laying hens are actually very quiet lady birds. They are never louder than, say, two people would be while having a conversation,” Ms. Waters said. “Regarding waste, a 40-pound dog generates more solid waste than 10 chickens.”

This isn’t the first time the issue has come before Council. In 2017, the Town investigated the possibility of lifting its backyard poultry ban, before ultimately deciding against it. 

Coun. Grant Peters noted this issue was brough to Sustainable Orangeville earlier this year. He presented a notice of motion on Nov. 11 that, if approved, would call on staff to investigate and report on the potential for residents to keep backyard chickens and to create a pilot program for the initiative. 

There was some concern, and hesitation, amongst members of Council to move forward with such a project. Coun. Debbie Sherwood wondered if there was any evidence to suggest that backyard hens would attract more predatory wildlife to town.

“There’s nothing to show that hens bring in more predators. At the end of the day though, you would need to keep the hens contained. If you were to build a coop that is appropriate, with latches, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Ms. Waters noted. “I’ve never read anything that said you will see more predators as a result of hens.”

Coun. Joe Andrews wondered about the cost of keeping hens, to which Ms. Waters remarked that a suitable enclosure and four hens would likely cost at least $250. 

Admitting he was nowhere close to being a “chicken crusader”, Coun. Todd Taylor expressed concern over allowing any sort of backyard hen program to move forward in Orangeville. He wondered how neighbours would react once they learned somebody living next door had a chicken coop in their backyard. He wondered if Town staff should first carry out some due diligence to see if such a program would work in our community.

“I feel like staff should come up with a report first. What if they say it’s a really bad idea? I don’t know that we should create a pilot program before finding out. I do think it’s a great initiative, but it sort of feels like we might have the chicken before the egg on this one,” Coun. Taylor said. “I’ll be honest, I don’t love the idea of chickens in backyards, but I’d like to know more before moving forward. I do have some reluctance.”

Seeking to alleviate some of the issues raised by Coun. Taylor, Ms. Waters pointed out that her proposal specifically highlights that anyone wishing to participate in the program must first receive written consent from all neighbours before proceeding with an application. Upon approval, residents will be subject to regular inspection of their property and hen enclosure to ensure it complies with all requirements. Hens would only be permitted to be kept in backyards, and Ms. Waters was keen to stress that  no slaughtering or butchering of hens would be allowed.

“Having a connection to food is what this is all about for me. I want this to be a community building thing, and not a hurtful, hateful thing. I think chickens can be a great thing,” Ms. Waters said. “My idea in my head, is for me to bake something egg-based, like a scone or a muffin, and take them to my neighbour’s house and show them what a great thing this could be.”

In closing, Ms. Waters noted that most families cannot go through what four hens will lay in a week, which could lead to eggs being shared with neighbours, or even the local food bank. Amongst towns and cities that have an approved backyard chicken bylaw, only one in 1,750 properties actually keep chickens.

“The Town of Orangeville possesses the ability to take the forward-thinking approach needed to make urban farming and chicken keeping a reality,” Ms. Waters stated. “This is an urgent priority for its citizens seeking a more ecological and thoughtful approach to climate change, food systems and waste control.” 

A staff report on the issue will be presented to Council by March 2020, with a pilot program potentially beginning in May 2020.

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