HATCHING A PLAN
Residents living in Ward 21, St. Paul’s will be allowed to keep up to four chickens on their property for the next three years by Marika Washchyshyn
Some local ’hoods now allowed to keep chickens
On Oct. 2, Toronto City Council approved a pilot project, 23 votes to 14, that will allow residents in select wards to both own and raise backyard hens.
St. Paul’s will be one of the four wards (along with EtobicokeLakeshore, Parkdale–High Park and Beaches–East York) to participate in the pilot project for a period of up to three years, with a review after 18 months.
Those living in residential properties with sufficient outdoor space will be able to keep and raise up to four hens on their property. Roosters are not allowed, eggs can’t be sold for profit, and on-site slaughter is strictly prohibited.
The pilot project is a big win for urban agriculture supporters who have twice before tried to lobby the city to remove chickens from the city’s prohibited animals list, in 2011 and 2013. Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc is one such proponent and plans to keep chickens of his own.
“I have grandkids, and they are excited about it,” Mihevc said. “To take them in the backyard, show them how [eggs] are laid … they’re going to get close to them as pets and see the circle of life. I want to teach them good animal husbandry and use it … to build community.”
Backyard hens, although technically violating bylaws, have been a part of the GTA’s fabric for some time. A Forest Hill resident and the founder of Toronto Chickens, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been keeping hens since 2007 as an educational tool for her children. She said she currently keeps three chickens and one turkey on her property. She said she’s shocked it has taken a growing city like Toronto so long to adapt and thinks the pilot program will be a low-risk way to test changing the bylaw on backyard hens in the future.
“By December 2008, I thought the bylaw would have been changed,” she said. “[Some] 4,000 signatures later on a petition, at least we’re doing a pilot project.”
By her measure, there are many benefits to raising chickens, not the least being nutrition. She’s previously sent her eggs to labs for testing, and compared to factoryfarmed eggs, hers have significantly increased nutritional value.
“They have two-thirds more vitamin A, twice the omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, seven times more beta keratin and four times more vitamin D,” she said.
Englemount Avenue and Lawrence Avenue West area resident Jamie Bussin kept hens this summer, after the issue was brought back to city council in May, trying it out for his own journalism piece. Although he, his wife and kids enjoyed the fresh eggs their four hens produced regularly, the combination of Toronto’s winter weather and the economic viability halted their experiment.
“[Chickens] can’t stay outside when it goes to freezing, so you would need to winterize,” he said. “And it’s not economical [to rent]. If you bought the birds, maybe.”
Rent The Chicken is a rental company that’s excited about the pilot. Kate Belbeck supplies the GTA with hens from her farm in Moffat, Ont., and provides coops, feed, dishes, treats, reference books and support for the duration of the rental. Although the city hasn’t approached her yet, she is hopeful a partnership can be forged.
“That’s where our program fits in nicely because it’s designed to be temporary if it needs to be,” Belbeck said. “It’s a good way to start because you do have support … and you can test what works for you and what doesn’t. You have an easy way to chicken out if it doesn’t work for you — no pun intended.”
But critics of the project say noise, smell and potential health issues are reasons why council should have voted against it. Councillor Jaye Robinson of Ward 25, Don Valley, spoke out against the pilot ahead of the vote.
“We should not be entertaining this for a second,” Robinson said.
Clockwise from left: The founder of Toronto Chickens stands with one of her hens in the backyard of her Forest Hill home; the enclosure she keeps her chickens in; Kate Belbeck with the hens and supplies she rents to residents in the GTA