A few weekends ago I was walking by Tara Natural Foods, who had gorgeous Spring flowers and seasonal produce for sale outside. I was drawn closer by a volunteer from the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG Kingston) / Urban Agriculture Kingston (UAK) who was standing next to a small basket of eggs, and handing out literature pertaining to the benefits of urban farming. Sustainability is a theme that Kingstonist has touched on many times in the past, and as indicated by reader comments, a lot of people throughout the community are getting serious about locally sourced food. Participation in the 100-mile diet and tending to backyard vegetable gardens is just the start, as groups such as OPIRG Kingston and UAK have begun to push new initiatives such as allowing backyard hen houses. While this proposal still has to resolve a few legal hurdles, what if Kingston allowed residents to maintain chicken coops?
As we’ve seen with recently implemented environmental programs such as organic recycling, solar hot water heaters and rain barrels, Kingston has generally adopted sustainable practices that have been tried and tested in other cities. Since Niagara Falls and Victoria already allow backyard chicken coops, it should come as no surprise that cities such as Ottawa, Toronto, and the Limestone City have begun to henpeck around the issue. Supporters of this latest urban farming initiative suggest that the benefits of keeping egg-laying hens are plentiful:
Raising poultry within an urban setting provides eggs, fertilizer, garden help and meat with a minimal environmental footprint. Having suffered decades of disconnection from our food, bringing the farm (and in this case animals) into the city, can provide a much-needed dose of agriculture and food awareness. It’s this very disconnection that has allowed for the appalling conditions now found in factory egg and chicken barns.
That said, some residents have raised concerns about keeping chickens in an urban setting, arguing that noise levels and waste must be carefully addressed. With this in mind, Urban Agriculture Kingston reviewed the bylaws of other cities and suggest that Kingston can overcome these headaches by adopting the following, stringent measures:
- 1 bird per 1000 ft2 of property (average Kingston lot size would be about 3500 ft2);
- Coops and runs must be 15 feet from any dwelling;
- Coops must not be built onto a shared fence;
- Hens must be confined to coop between 9pm and 8am;
- Roosters are prohibited;
- Home slaughter is prohibited;
- Feed to be stored securely;
- Manure to be composted in enclosed bin; chicken run to be kept clean; and
- All other animal control bylaws will obviously apply: noise, odour, animals-at-large.
UAK goes on to say that “the experiences of other cities shows a nuisance complaint rate of 6 complaints per 100,000 residents per year, and that is with less prescriptive rules than those above.” While other opponents may also worry about the human and ethical treatment of chickens kept in one’s backyard, it is impossible to guarantee that there will be zero incidents of abuse and neglect. Animal cruelty is obviously important issue, but it hasn’t stopped the city from issuing licences for household pets who are equally as prone to mistreatment. In any case, I do not believe that concerns of neglected hens should be an obstacle to backyard chicken keeping, as incidents of cruelty could be dealt with on a case by case basis.
So where do Kingstonians stand on this issue? Are you willing to encourage City Hall to change the bylaws and allow urban hen houses, or is this simply the environmental issue du jour? Please let us know by dropping off your comments below. Special thanks to Guerrilla Futures / Jason Tester for today’s photo of Thor’s urban chickens.