Some lo­cal ’hoods now al­lowed to keep chick­ens

Midtown Post - - Contents - By Marika Washchyshyn

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 Eto­bi­coke-Lake shore, Park dale–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. “It’s the most com­plained about an­i­mal on Toronto’s pro­hib­ited an­i­mals list for smell and noise, at­tract­ing rac­coons and ro­dents.” Bel­beck strongly dis­agrees. “One of the con­cerns that has been raised are mice and rats; they’re al­ready there. If you’re care­ful about how you’re stor­ing your feed and how you’re feed­ing them, [the hens,] you can help to min­i­mize those is­sues.”

And noise? Toronto Chick­ens founder said bark­ing dogs are far of­ten more of a cause of noise com­plaints than her chick­ens ever could be. Mi­hevc said a Ni­a­gara neigh­bour­hood al­low­ing back­yard hens had 500 dog com­plaints last year com­pared to 10 for chick­ens.

An­i­mal Al­liance of Canada has op­posed the pi­lot project. Di­rec­tor Liz White said the project “reeks of dis­pos­abil­ity,” from lack of pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion to short-term rentals.

“When the egg-lay­ing years de­crease af­ter 18 months, peo­ple gen­er­ally don’t want the birds af­ter [that],” White said. “What do they do with them? Do they turn them in? Do they let them out? Do they slaugh­ter them in their own back­yards even though it’s not al­lowed? We know this hap­pens be­cause we get com­plaints.”

Bel­beck said she takes back hens that aren’t adopted af­ter her com­pany’s rental pe­riod, to live out their days on her farm.

But White balks at the tran­sient na­ture of the city’s pi­lot project.

“How does it teach kids any re­spon­si­bil­ity for what is a liv­ing, sen­tient be­ing when you don’t want it any­more?” White said.

An­other con­cern is avian-re­lated dis­eases, in­clud­ing sal­mo­nella. Toronto Pub­lic Health spokesper­son Dr. Michael Finkel­stein said that, although he is not aware of any lo­cal dis­ease out­breaks re­lated to back­yard chick­ens or other live­stock, there is cur­rently an on­go­ing sal­mo­nella out­break linked to con­tact or ex­po­sure to back­yard chick­ens in the United States.

Still, Finkel­stein agreed that hand-wash­ing and keep­ing the ar­eas clean would mit­i­gate any pos­si­bil­ity of ill­nesses spread­ing.

Bussin said he didn’t re­ceive any com­plaints from the neigh­bours be­side him but did re­ceive one from an ad­ja­cent lot be­hind his prop­erty.

“We all have to be good neigh­bours,” said Bussin, who dili­gently cleaned his coop ev­ery day. “You have to be mind­ful of how your an­i­mals are go­ing to in­ter­act with the neigh­bour­hood.… It was def­i­nitely a worth­while ex­pe­ri­ence, but I wouldn’t want any­one to do it with their eyes closed.”

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

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