No backyard hens in Bradford

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

Someone's chicken, wandering loose in Bradford.

Someone's chicken, wandering loose in Bradford.

Bradford West Gwillimbury residents may be given a green light to keep “backyard chickens” - but don't envision chicken coops springing up in Bradford subdivisions.

Councillors turned down a total ban on chickens in residential zones, but they were also opposed to allowing hens in within the urban boundaries.

The issue of 'Backyard Chickens' came back to BWG Council on November 7, in a 72 page report by Manager of Enforcement Brent Lee. It all started earlier this year, when Enforcement received  2 complaints regarding backyard chickens  in Foster's Forest  - and discovered that the existing By-laws are unclear.

The Town's  Animal Control Bylaw prohibits the keeping or raising of livestock (including chickens) “within any Residential Zone or Residential lot having an area of 2.5 acres or less” - raising the question of the difference between a “residential zone” and a “residential lot”.

And the Zoning By-law does not include “agriculture” (which includes raising poultry) as a permitted use in a Residential zone; but does allow livestock in Agricultural, Rural and Natural Heritage zones.

As a result, one of the Foster's Forest chicken runs was shut down; the other was allowed to continue due to the large lot size. The Town has since received “numerous” requests from residents, interested in raising chickens in residential backyards, as part of a growing “urban agriculture” movement.

Cities like Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal now permit backyard hens in residential zones; Toronto recently joined their ranks, launching a 3-year pilot project allowing up to 4 hens in eligible backyards in some Wards. Other municipalities have banned poultry.

Locally, Newmarket said yes to chickens; King Twp., New Tecumseth, Innisfil, Barrie, Georgina, Whitchurch-Stouffville and Vaughan said no.

Municipalities that do permit backyard chickens allow hens only –  no noisy roosters - and require a licence or permit. There are rules restricting the placement of chicken coops in relation to neighbouring property lines. Some even require hen owners to get the approval of their neighbours, before the application is approved.
Issues include noise, odor, attraction of rodents and other wildlife, concerns over the spread of disease such as Avian influenza and Salmonella – not only to humans, but to nearby commercial poultry operations; as well as increased nuisance complaints and a bigger burden on Animal Control.

Locally, waste control is an issue: Simcoe County does not accept chicken manure in its curbside collection. Any backyard hen operation would need sufficient room to compost or spread the manure – creating issues of odor for neighbours. Other concerns include  food safety (such as unlawful sale of ungraded eggs), and potential for improper treatment of the birds.

On the positive side, backyard chickens are seen as providing greater food availability, fresh eggs, educational opportunities for owners, and a better living environment for the hens – leading Councillor Gary Baynes to suggest, “The problems would far outweigh the potential benefits.”

Lee  presented four options for Council's consideration – an outright ban in all Residential Zones (Option A); permission to keep hens in all Residential Zones; allowing hens in some Residential zones (Option C); or establishing a 3-year pilot project, Option D, that would grant up to 3 permits in each ward, and monitor complaints and impacts over a 3-year period.

Lee recommended Option A or D – but Councillors preferred C, allowing owners of large rural lots to keep hens.

Coun. Peter Ferragine said he couldn't support backyard chickens in urban residential areas. “The cons outweigh the pros... Summerlyn, Grand Central – I can't see chickens in the backyard. I can't support it.”

Coun. Gary Lamb agreed, suggesting that “if you're surrounded by farm fields, that shouldn't be an issue.” In urban settlement areas, “with the smaller lots they're having now, I think it could create issues. … Let people have chickens where there are no neighbours.”

“In a farm scenario, in a rural area – fine,” said Coun. Mark Contois. “In a 30' lot – no.”

“They do smell. There's a lot of work involved,” said Counc. Ron Orr, who grew up on a farm. With narrow urban lots and “little wee backyards, it would just be a problem, with neighbour vs. neighbour.”

A motion to approve Option A, put forward by Deputy Mayor James Leduc, was defeated. Instead, Council voted to support Option C –  but sent the report back to staff, to work on details of where hens will be allowed.