Chickens in the City

The City of Toronto is wrestling with the question of how to allow chickens in their city.  I have been involved somewhat in their discussions, and I believe that there is interest in finding a way to accomplish this, the question is…..how?

I have been asked by other municipalities in the past to give advice on requirements for bylaws to control backyard flocks in urban environs.  I usually give a bit of a talk showing some of the risks to the hens, their keepers, and people eating the eggs the hens produce.  It is important to point out to the councils some of the problems that they may face if they allow backyard flocks.  Some of the councils have felt that they didn’t want to  allow chickens in their jurisdictions because it was too complicated to do properly.

I have been accused of being “against” urban hens.  Once in the hallway outside the council chambers by a group of people who were quite upset…..as I answered their questions, I scanned for the nearest exit….just in case.  These henners….all of whom were illegally keeping hens “underground”, felt I was trying to put them out of business.  The really sad thing is that I have a huge amount of respect for almost all the people I have met who have backyard hens.  They like em….they care for em….they do research and try to do everything right, and do a great job, for the most part. 

The people I am warning the council to be aware of are the people I liken to the “Christmas morning puppy” bunch.  A squirmy, cuddly puppy is a great idea on Christmas morning, but by February, the adolescent creature is dropped at the shelter for shedding, barking, chewing and being just too much bother.  I’m afraid that when chicken keeping is sanctioned by the city, people will be tempted to buy hens with the same amount of forethought.  It’s even worse for chickens though, since almost everyone has a basic idea of what dog ownership entails, while chickens are….well….weird.  Exotic is a nicer way of putting it, but not as accurate.

I have posted an Urban Farmer’s Chores List, which gives an idea what the background needs of chickens is, and some of the hurdles you can plan on facing if you decide to keep hens.  The municipality must be aware of these things, and find a way to make sure that anyone who keeps hens does it in a responsible fashion.  If not, there are significant animal welfare and human health risks, as well as a likelihood of neighbour issues.

The people who have hens now have found out most of these things themselves, either through hard experience, or advice from a friend.  I want to be clear that I am in support of backyard hens being kept responsibly.  I think that knowing about chickens and eggs, and being interested and involved in food production (at any level) is a hugely beneficial exercise for any city dweller.  If nothing else, it will make you more knowledgeable and appreciative of the things that us rural folks are involved in every day.

So….those of you who are involved in trying to get hens in your cities, keep up the fight….make sure that the rules are in place so that anyone who joins your ranks does as good a job of looking after the hens as you do.  I will be behind any group that has that as a goal.

Mike the Chicken Vet

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