What’s All the ‘Cluck’ About Backyard Chickens?

chickenYou may have taken notice of the recent debate in allowing backyard chickens within urban areas of the city of Thunder Bay. This proposed bylaw has been talked about for quite some time and has been specifically handled through the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy in hopes to allow this bylaw to pass. However, at the same time, they aim to remain active in educating and addressing any concerns the general public may have about this topic.

I recently gathered some information in speaking with Kendal Donahue, Food Strategy Coordinator of Thunder Bay and Area, on this presently ongoing topic. She has played a key role in the growth of this proposed bylaw, specifically in educating people on what it would mean if this proposed bylaw were to be passed.

Chickens are often thought of as farm animals, and generally, those living within an urban setting are not used to these birds on a daily basis. It is understandable that many questions and concerns would be raised if a proposed bylaw like this were to take effect. That’s why Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy has made education a priority from the start. “We found that people had a lot of misconceptions about chickens. For example, a lot of people think chickens bring diseases like Avian Influenza, when in fact the risk of contracting this disease from backyard chickens is extremely low to non-existent.” For this reason the Food Strategy has used things like the Food Strategy’s website, social media, and an open house held in April to engage people in conversation and to do some myth busting. “The forums were a great tool,” commented Donahue, “to hear what concerns people had and to make sure these would be addressed through a bylaw, like limiting the number of birds and putting in place property set back requirements. At the same time, the public consultation was a great way to learn more about why people are so interested in having chickens.” The Food Strategy’s online survey reached over 500 responses, with an overwhelming number of people indicating that they were supportive of chickens within the city. For those in favour, their main interests in legalizing backyard chickens are to have a closer connection with their food supply and access to fresh eggs. Supporters also see chickens as a great way to teach their children about where their food comes from. They think of chickens as useful additions to their backyards since chickens consume kitchen scraps, create compost and eat insects.

Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy has been providing ample public consultation through presentations, events and social media from the very start. “It was something that came up in the consultations we did to develop the food strategy and then implementation plan.” Donahue also added, “Really it’s about responding to a surge of interest by the public that have called for the food strategy and to look at this issue.”

The benefits of backyard chickens are many, and it’s a way of life that, in the past, had been passed down for many generations. Many can relate to the family farm of a grandparent, where chickens are cheerfully pecking around the yard, searching for bugs and worms among the flower beds and barnyard. Backyard chickens would further help meet the demands of ‘farm fresh’ and satisfy the growing interest of locally grown foods. Though many of us may already have connections to fresh eggs from someone that resides in a rural area, somewhere along the way the connection of ‘farm to table’ is lost. Often we prepare or consume our foods mindlessly, without taking the time to really reflect on where this food has come from. But why chickens, and why now?

In 2014, the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy presented to City Council on the strong links between food and healthy, sustainable communities. Their goal was to increase food production within the urban landscape and support the participation of citizens in urban agriculture activities. One of these ideas was allowing backyard chickens within urban areas. Donahue and her team have conducted extensive research, including researching cities which have already allowed this bylaw to pass. Cities like Guelph, Huntsville and Kingston, but also much larger metropolitan areas including Vancouver and Minneapolis. There has been very positive feedback experiences with backyard chickens with little complaints thus far from all of these cities. However, that does not mean that certain rules would not be put into place to limit issues around noise, smell, and health. All cities that allow backyard chickens have rules regulating them, such as limiting the number of birds to (depending on the cities recommendations) 3-10 birds per household, allowing few or no roosters, and outlining the minimum distance a coop can be located to neighbouring buildings. Donahue has done her homework, so to speak, and has found that if a bylaw is done well, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

So what about those of us who remain concerned about things like pest, noise and odour control, all associated with a flock of chickens? “We’re developing an educational strategy that we’ll carry out if the bylaw is passed. This will include things like links to helpful resources (hen care, coop design), workshops and coop tours,” explains Donahue. Should the bylaw come into effect, any complaints or concerns would be dealt with effectively and promptly.

At present, council has directed the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy to prepare a report with options and costs, which will then be presented to council on June 20th. In the meantime, people can find out more by visiting their website at www.tbfoodstrategy.ca where a FAQ section and factsheet can be found.

A special thanks to Kendal Donahue in providing the information for this article, and to the Thunder Bay Food and Area Strategy for their efforts in keeping the public educated and informed about the process of this proposed bylaw. 

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