Looking at an eggs-ception to the by-laws
Chicken seen wandering on the grounds of Bradford District High School in June 2015. Someone in the neighbourhood was keeping backyard hens - despite the by-laws.
Urban agriculture and backyard hens are trending, all thanks to increased interest in food security and eating local.
But in most municipalities, Bradford West Gwillimbury included, chickens are prohibited in residential areas, by Animal Control and Zoning By-laws – although some urban centres are launching pilot projects or changing the rules to allow the keeping of hens.
BWG Manager of Enforcement, Brent Lee started looking into the question of Backyard Hens after receiving a complaint this spring from a resident in an estate subdivision, regarding a neighbour's chickens. Lee discovered a discrepancy in the By-laws: The Animal Control By-law prohibits the keeping of livestock (including chickens) in Residential areas but allows chickens on lots larger than 2.5 acres. The Zoning By-law allows chickens on all Country lots, but not in R1, R2, R3, Rural Residential or Estate Residential zones.
The wording, Lee told Council, is unclear - “leaving the keeping of chickens open to interpretation.”
He has reached out to various stakeholders, and the public, to determine the pros and cons of Backyard Hens.
Pros include food security, fresher food, perceived educational opportunities, lesser environmental impact, and a connection to nature.
Cons, as identified by agencies that include the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food & Rural Affairs and Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, include the potential spread of diseases such as salmonella and avian 'flu, food safety, disposal of chicken waste, and complaints about odors, noise, predators and pests.
There were concerns that not all hen-keepers understand chicken welfare; that there could be use of inappropriate feed, or sale of ungraded eggs.
When Lee took the question to the public, in a survey, he found that 52% of the 332 respondents were in favour of allowing Backyard Hens - but there were concerns about odors (60%), predators and wildlife (50%), the spread of disease (44%), noise (43%), and improper care (43%).
The survey is still ongoing. Once it wraps up, Lee plans to file a report, and ask Council to decide on one of 4 options - prohibiting hens in all Residential zones, permitting hens in all Residential zones, allowing hens in some Residential zones, or introducing a pilot project, that would allow a maximum of 3 applications per ward during a 2-year period, while monitoring complaints.
“I thought there would have been more pushback,” said a surprised Councillor Mark Contois. “I think we need more information. Maybe a pilot project down the road.”
Lee pointed out that a pilot project won’t mean unrestricted flocks of chickens. In every community where backyard hens are allowed there are regulations governing the number of hens, banning roosters, setting distance from the property line, and requiring notification of the neighbours.