KEEPING BACKYARD CHICKENS by: Cindy Broberg
Table of Contents:
- The Bylaw in Dawson Creek
- Getting Bylaws Changed
- Egg production per Hen
- How Bad a Neighbor will I be if I Keep Hens?
THE BYLAW IN DAWSON CREEK
The bylaw contains specific information on the placement and size requirements of the coop, as well as basic good practice when keeping hens.
Dawson Creek/ Animal-Responsibility/ Bylaw-4122 PDF Document
I approached Dawson Creek city council with the following arguments regarding keeping backyard hens in July 2014:
Getting Bylaws Changed
- The zoning bylaws of Dawson Creek did not clearly exclude residents from keeping hens, yet this bylaw was being used as the one preventing residents from keeping hens in town as single family zones did not permit agriculture. I compared our bylaw language to the language in other cities that allow hens (New Westminster), and tried to find other Dawson Creek bylaws that pertained to keeping hens (by the Animal Control bylaw, hens would be considered ‘small animals’).
- Bylaws are only enforced in Dawson Creek on a complaint-driven basis, with no requirement to attempt to resolve the matter before complaining to the city. This seems odd to me as many other policies would require the receiver an opportunity to make aments first, for example, Human Rights policies, Office of the Ombudsperson, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 11-a.
- I argued that keeping hens does not interfere unreasonably with the rights of others (United Nations Declaration of Human Rights 29(2), Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 7).
- “The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (Department for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, Kwantlan Polytechnic University) has investigated the … benefits that could result if municipalities invested in and supported small scale agriculture in their communities…[Their] work has demonstrated significant potential for increased food security, a reduction of farmland loss to urban sprawl, job creation, and wealth generation…” http://www.kpu.ca/isfs
- I argued keeping backyard hens aligns with Dawson Creek’s Model Principles for Sustainability, and provided evidence of recent examples of animal abuse, and the poor living conditions standardized in commercially kept hens.
I view raising backyard hens as a sustainable model of food production with direct congruence with Dawson Creek’s Model Principles for Sustainable Communities:
Model Principles for Sustainable Communities
- Keeping hens in my backyard makes better use of the resources (carrying capacity) of my lot.
- It promotes the rapidly disappearing food-based and rural-based cultures that have helped sustain Dawson Creek over the years.
- My hens have been raised and housed in a respectful, safe, and relatively cushy environment compared to commercially-farmed hens.
- My interests are shared by others, and I work to promote backyard hens in a responsible manner. All the neighbourhood children know our house.
- I think keeping hens is environmentally-friendly: my eggs are produced in my backyard, and fed almost all my kitchen scraps. The food waste is kept out of the land fill, and composted much more quickly than the traditional method. And, I get fertilizer for the gardens too.
- Arguments against the sustainably of producing my own eggs: I use a heat lamp in winter (increased energy consumption); I buy layer feed, grit, and oyster shells to supplement their diet (which are not always locally produced).
- Lastly, I looked at all the major municipalities in BC, determined if they allowed backyard hens or not, and determined the number of British Columbians that are allowed to keep hens.
Egg Production per Hen
A family of five typically consumes 2 dozen eggs per week, (1) and this is in the ballpark of my household. In order to meet this requirement, I have found the following flock management has worked for me: I started off with three pullets my first spring. They started to lay in the fall, and laid steadily the first winter and summer. Production dropped off in late August, and there were nearly no eggs for the months of September and/or October (hens were molting). This pattern has followed for all my hens thus far (Table 1). So, in order to offset the low production in fall, I add one or two pullets to the flock during the summer. They begin to lay when the older hens stop.
It is well known that egg production varies by breed, hen age, diet, light, time of year, and other physiological factors (e.g., moulting, brooding). Egg production is an inherited trait, and is maintained in commercial operations by selecting the most productive lines. I have been obtaining my chicks locally from ‘hobby farmers’, and so my hens may possibly underperform their breed’s potential. (It is also difficult to find ‘normal’ expectations for each breed. Because it is difficult to find quantitative data, I’m willing to share the data from my own flock (Table 1 ).
The White Leghorn clearly laid more eggs (Table 2), and is the classic commercially produced breed that lays white eggs. However, she is not my favorite chicken! She is skittish and aloof, her yolks are always paler than the other birds’, and her shells thinner. The Ameraucanas do very well, are friendly (they come and visit me for pets and treats while I’m gardening), and lay lovely, green-blue eggs. They are much better suited as a backyard breed, in my opinion. (And, you can tell by looking at my flock composition!)
How bad a neighbor will I be if I keep hens?
I have found many people who are against keeping hens in city limits. Usually, they say chickens are meant for the farm, and if I want to keep hens, I should just move out to a farm. If only it were that easy! And, it really isn’t necessary. I think it is reasonable for individuals to pursue any passion they have, so long it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. So, how obnoxious are neighbors with chickens? Why not get some data from two other major cities that allow backyard chickens: Victoria and Vancouver.
Each municipality in BC appears to have an Animal Control department that handles complaints. In 2014, I called many such animal control officers and spoke with them about keeping chickens, and complaints. In Victoria(a), they receive approximately 200 complaints per month, 140 of which are about dogs. One to two complaints per month will pertain to chickens, and they are usually regarding 1) chickens escaped a coop; 2) sanitation issues (attracting rats); and 3) noise complaints from keeping roosters or letting hens out too early.
Vancouver fields a similar number of complaints as Victoria, but complaints also include residents having too many birds as their bylaws only permit four hens(b). (Victoria does not have a number limit, only a stipulation that you are producing eggs for your own family).
So, there we have it. Apparently if you keep dogs, you might be better suited to live a life in the country!