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Backyard chickens proposed for Lakefield

by Ann Jakins

Imagine walking out into your own backyard to gather a handful of warm fresh eggs for breakfast. You are greeted in a friendly and expectant manner by the soft clucking sounds of your hens as you refresh their water and fill their tray with feed.

This scene is a reality, not only for our rural neighbours, but also for many people living in Ontario and other Canadian and USA municipalities – including Brampton, Guelph and Niagara Falls. A petition to Selwyn Township Council has, over the last month, gained many signatures supporting a change in the Village of Lakefield’s Animal Control by-Laws – a change to allow the raising of Backyard Chickens. This petition and a suggested amendment to the by-law will be presented to the Selwyn Township Council at their regular meeting on 27 May at 6:30 p.m. We hope for the support of those villagers who advocate for the keeping of “City Chickens” in Lakefield.

Why is it important to raise your own chickens? The top reason involves food security, that is, the production of fresh, healthy, wholesome local food for us and our families at a reasonable cost. More people are putting in home gardens and shopping at Farmer’s Markets so that their food arrives on their table as fresh and as full of flavour as possible. Studies and personal experience tell us that a home grown tomato tastes better than one which is shipped from California. In the same way, an egg from a free run chicken differs in taste and colour from that of a caged and factory raised bird. Egg production from backyard chickens is sustainable. A chicken can lay an egg a day throughout most of the year, even in winter. An insulated and lighted (14 hrs/day) chicken coop can prevent a significant decline in egg laying. This insures families with sustainable protein in their diet year round. If a family grows their own vegetable produce, their chickens will provide them, as well, with compostable fertilizer for their gardens.

Chickens are easy to care for on a daily basis. They require at least two visits – in the morning and evening – for an inclusive time of an hour per day. During these visits one can feed, water, clean, check the health and secure the hens for overnight roosting in their coop. Daily cleaning is necessary for the health of the chickens and the prevention of odour, but is not onerous or time consuming. Four chickens will produce less waste everyday than a large dog and this waste is good for your lawn and compost pile.

Chicken runs can be constructed to move on your lawn and garden so that as the chickens get their daily exercise they also have a fresh supply of insects to enrich their diet and will contribute manure in amounts that will not burn vegetation and will disappear into the grass. Movable runs are often called “Chicken Tractors” as the scratching for bugs can aerate lawns and stir up newly germinated weeds – effectively killing them. Inside their run, the chickens are secure and protected from predators, and are not a nuisance to neighbours.

Hens make friendly pets. Layers can be selected from those breeds known to be non-aggressive to their coop-mates and to people. These chickens are content to sit on laps or shoulders and love to be petted. They are curious and gentle – even with children. Children learn, by caring for and watching these creatures, where their food comes from. Hens are quiet birds and usually croon softly as they forage and cluck excitedly to announce the laying of their daily egg. Loud squawking may occur when the chickens are disturbed or frightened. In most municipalities roosters are not permitted due to crowing behaviour. All in all hens make good neighbours.

The above may be good news for many village residents who favour city chickens, but others who live here may have big concerns. Most frequently people worry about disease. Some chicken viruses can be passed on to humans. These diseases may be more common in large chicken operations but are less so in small backyard flocks with alert and trained owners and available veterinary care. An organic, antibiotic-free flock can be maintained in excellent health and will be no danger to neighbours or wild bird populations. Likewise, the attraction of insect pests and rodents is another significant concern of many. The regulation of tight cleanliness and secure storage practices on the part of the owner and enforcement through periodic inspections can eliminate this problem. The final concern in many urban areas is the abandonment of unwanted chickens within the city. RSPCA’s report “freed” chickens are becoming more common, but also find that this occurs most often in municipalities which have not permitted backyard chickens and that the hens have been let loose because of fear of prosecution. We believe that proper regulation of urban agriculture can prevent these problems and create compatible living between chicken owners and their neighbours.

The proposed by-law amendments will regulate and license backyard chickens in Lakefield. They will include rules concerning the minimum residential lot size and set backs for coop placement. There will be restrictions on the number and sex of chickens permitted and regulations for storage of feed, cleanliness, health, security and safety of livestock and to provide for regular periodic inspections by animal control.

Our organization also proposes a support group for chicken owners, prospective chicken owners and their neighbours. Our vision is ongoing education to insure that our chicken owners can give their hens the best and most humane care possible and to help them through problems that may occur over the lives of their chickens. We will conduct workshops on starting out with chickens, including prospective cost estimates; coop design; care and feeding of your hens; chicken health and the best breeds for urban agriculture. We will use local experts – small farmers and veterinarians as well as experienced city chicken owners to lead these workshops. We have already compiled a list of local suppliers, services and health care providers that deal with poultry. We have a Facebook page “Backyard Chickens for Lakefield” where you can get updates and advice, as well as find links to other online sources such as: http://www.backyardchickens.com.

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