Sunnyside up

Calgary councillors, local food activists working towards urban hen pilot project

A prominent local food activist is urging the city to rethink their opposition to backyard coops, arguing the advantages of urban livestock far outweigh their potential drawbacks.

“[Hens are] amazing for (the consumption of) organic household wastes. They’re amazing for pest control in the backyard, they eat bugs and all kinds of different things,” said Paul Hughes, a farm manager with urban farm Grow Calgary and the founder of the Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub (CLUCK).

“They then will produce from that consumption of food and feed. They will produce a beautiful, nutritious egg that has about 33 per cent more nutrients than what we call an industrial egg from a battery-cage operation.”

Hughes, who has owned hens of his own and been ticketed for doing so, added they are a “very, very nice” addition to a family because they become pets much like a cat or dog.

The housing of urban livestock – which includes everything from chickens to horses and deer to foxes – is currently regulated by section 27 of the City’s Pet Ownership Bylaw stating, “no person shall keep livestock in any area of the City except where the keeping of livestock is allowed by the City of Calgary Land Use Bylaw.”

City staff said, on average, Calgary’s Animal & Bylaw Services receive 30 to 40 calls a year regarding urban livestock.
The topic was last on the chopping block in 2009 when council voted 11-3 against allowing backyard coops. Last August, councillors Ray Jones (Ward 5) and Gian-Carlo Carra (Ward 9) announced they were preparing a new notice of motion.

Carra has since confirmed the motion is “fully baked” and will come to council pending further pre-consultation with City administration.

He argued people and a regulated number of egg-laying hens can co-exist in an urban environment.

“My mom was born and raised in Inglewood, the youngest of five kids, and they would never have been able to survive into adulthood if the protein from eggs and chicken were not available to them that my grandparents raised,” he said.
“And these are skills that I don’t have, and that we largely lost. It makes a lot of sense to connect to our agricultural roots.”

A pilot being proposed by CLUCK – working separately from the City at the moment – would see 14 Calgary families, preferably one in each ward, with a maximum of six chickens, but no roosters, in their flock. The flock would be inspected once a month by CLUCK volunteers and a volunteer designate from Calgary Animals & Bylaw Services.
Chosen families would be selected through an application process and be required to attend a briefing, including a CLUCK workshop on hen care, coop maintenance and neighbour relations.

Hughes encourages critics of backyard hens to look at the research, including, “300-plus pilot projects in North America that have been conducted in the last five years alone.

“And also … look a little closer at what it is that’s being proposed … People think, ‘Oh there are roosters involved and there’s going to be somebody next door with 60 to 100 chickens.’ No. CLUCK is very, very strict on the conditions involved with having urban hens.”

Meanwhile, other cities and towns in the province have joined the flock of urban hen supporters. In Edmonton, a pilot project in which 12 families were given the freedom to house hens last fall will run until this August, with data presented to the City this fall.

In November, Okotoks town council voted in favour of holding a public hearing to better understand the impact of backyard hens, the first steps toward a pilot project. Black Diamond and Turner Valley are also currently operating pilot projects.

Red Deer passed a bylaw last summer in which residents can apply for up to four chickens per household. City development and licensing supervisor Erin Stuart said the 30 households that were part of a previous pilot project would have the first rights to securing a licence.

Red Deer residents are prohibited from keeping roosters, slaughtering chickens on-site or selling their eggs.

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