Do you want Backyard Chickens?

Henners….backyarders….urban farmers….call em what you want, they’re all over the place.  London, Windsor, Ottawa, Toronto, St. Catherines, Vancouver, Burnaby, Calgary, Kingston…..all these cities have had debates in city councils and in the media regarding backyard chickens.  The voices calling for this right are not especially numerous, but boy, are they loud.

People want hens for their companionship, for urban sustainability reasons, for environmental reasons, and hey, lets face it, the free eggs are nice too.  Like anything else that gets decided by city councils (or governments of any level), the discussions become, well, political.  Food security, cheap food for the poor, and city diversity are arguments I hear in council chambers.  Amusing, since the bylaws usually limit the number of birds to 4 or 6 per household, and limit them to affluent areas of the city by mandating a minimum lot size. 

I’m all for city folk keeping chickens, if they commit to doing it right.  The rewards are great….many people like the hens as pets, people get an appreciation of where their food comes from, and kids start to understand the responsibility of caring for food producing animals.  The people who are pushing for the right to keep hens are really “into” chickens, and are really motivated to look after them….heck, most of them are breaking the law currently to do it.  My concern is that once “henning” becomes legal, the chickens will become like Christmas puppies….a great idea at the time, but an unexpected pain in the butt later.

People who go into backyard farming unprepared are very likely to put their chickens and themselves at risk.  To protect both the hens and the people who look after them, I’ve developed an “Urban Farmer’s Chores List“, along with the Egg Farmers of Ontario, to help prepare prospective hen keepers for what they are getting into.  Keep in mind, this is only the tip of the iceberg of things you’ll want to know about keeping hens, but it will get you started.

I’d like to point out one other thing.  Some people argue that keeping hens is not a big deal….on a par with keeping a dog.  There are two major differences….most people innately know what a dog needs, since we are exposed to them commonly.  Not so with hens.  More importantly, you do not eat what your dog produces (toddlers are the occasional exception, but lets not dwell on that).  This is a serious health consideration.  Professional egg farmers do a LOT of things that protect the eggs you buy in the store from contamination by bacteria.  If you produce your own eggs, PLEASE make sure you do it safely.

Having said all that, I can imagine the satisfaction of eating the eggs your kids collected from your own feathered friends that morning.  Enjoy the experience.

Mike the Chicken Vet

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