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Vancouver City Council votes to allow chickens in yards

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Dane Chauvel kept chickens in his Kitsilano backyard for about a decade before he was caught infringing on city bylaws. But a bylaw change Thursday means he can keep the chickens legally. Photo: Jenelle Schneider/Vancouver Sun

From Barn Yard to Backyard
ByLaws: Urban hens have a patch of of grass to call home again after Vancouver City Council votes to allow animals in yards

By Catherine Rolfsen
Vancouver Sun
March 6 2009

It’s no yolk as city welcomes chickens home.

Two of three feathered friends sent off to a Langley farm will come back to roost in Kitsilano backyard

Now living in exile in Langley, the two birds will soon be legally allowed back in their coop in Chauvel’s Kitsilano backyard after Vancouver city council voted unanimously Thursday to change city bylaws to legalize the keeping of urban hens.

“I think they’re probably dying to come home,” Chauvel said.

He explained that his family had three birds in their Kitsilano backyard for about a decade, despite bylaws forbidding the keeping of chickens in the city.

“They were friendly, innocuous, they really didn’t bother anybody, and they produced eggs,” he said. “My kids at the time were six and eight, or eight and 10. They named the birds and they kind of bridged being pets and livestock.”

But one day, a bylaw officer called and Chauvel ended up in court twice, fighting for his birds — two of which he argued weren’t actually chickens at all but some sort of exotic bird breed.

“The first time I lost, the second time I won, but it was just becoming too much of a hassle for my wife,” he said.

So the birds went out to pasture at a Langley farm. One has since died, but Chauvel says he’s eager to bring the other two home.

He’ll have to wait a few months, while city staff amend the city’s bylaws and draft guidelines on how to keep the birds safely and humanely.

With Thursday’s motion, moved by Coun. Andrea Reimer, Vancouver is the latest municipality to jump on the urban chicken bandwagon. New York City, Seattle, Portland, Victoria, Burnaby and Richmond all allow backyard hens in some way or another. Online resources and how-to books abound touting the joys of fresh and sustainable eggs.

But not everyone in B.C. is enthusiastic about the keeping of backyard hens. The BCSPCA and the Vancouver Humane Society both spoke against Thursday’s motion.

“While we sympathize with the interests of local people who want to keep these hens for the sustainability interests, we have concern that not everyone who is interested in keeping these chickens has the necessary knowledge or expertise to raise them humanely,” BCSPCA animal welfare coordinator Geoff Urton told The Vancouver Sun earlier Thursday.

Urton said he’s worried urban chickens could be easy targets for coyotes or raccoons and attract rats. What’s more, he’s not convinced that Vancouverites will be able to find a vet able to care for their birds or even know where to buy the right kind of feed.

BC Poultry Association president Ray Nickel called the motion “ridiculous” and said it flies in the face of food safety concerns.

“What if AI [avian influenza] started to happen with some of the flocks?” he asked, explaining that an urban outbreak could potentially affect export opportunities for his entire industry.

In Victoria, where backyard chickens have long been legal, the feathered fowl have caused some problems, but nothing major and no animal cruelty issues, said Ian Fraser, a senior animal control officer with Victoria Animal Control Service.

“When I get a call about it in Victoria, [usually] the chicken owner has made themselves a really cheap chicken coop,” Fraser said.

“It’s usually noise, smell, flies, ‘chickens are in my yard and they’re scratching up stuff.’ ”

Fraser said he gets about 12 poultry-related calls a year. But he said there’s no reason urban dwellers can’t successfully keep a few chickens, so long as there are some regulations.

Fraser has a few regulatory tips for the city staff tasked with drafting Vancouver’s guidelines: build a decent chicken coop, keep them in at night, ensure there is adequate yard space, and make sure city folk aren’t trying to sell eggs for profit or, worse, slaughtering their chickens themselves.

Chauvel said he expects the few Vancouverites who will get chickens will care for them exceptionally. “If you were a chicken you would be imploring the animals rights activists and the city council to approve this bylaw, because it’s the best thing that can happen in terms of chicken welfare,” he said. “Any resident that has two to four chickens, that means two to four chickens less in a battery cage environment.”

So you want to get chickens? Here’s a four-step guide to successful ownership for the uninitiated

Heather Havens recently taught a backyard chicken workshop in Richmond that she said was filled beyond capacity — with half the attendees from Vancouver.

Here are her steps to successful chicken ownership:

Havens recommends Chickens in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide by Rick and Gail Luttmann, Chicken Tractor by Andy Lee, and the websites justfood.org, poultryone.com and backyardchickens.com.

You can buy pre-made ones from Southlands Farm, or plan your own with help online. It must be secure enough to keep out raccoons and rats, but well-ventilated.

The henhouse should have 1.5 square feet per chicken, and the birds should have eight square feet each of outdoor space.

Available at commercial feed stores across the valley. Feed is available at Tisol pet food stores. There are a variety of ways to find chickens, which can range from free to hundreds of dollars for a specialty bird. Havens suggests talking to your local feed store or 4-H club, or even try Craigslist. There are also poultry auctions in the Fraser Valley. Havens recommends newbie owners get young or adult birds rather than chicks, and start with a flock of three to six. A hen in her prime will lay about two eggs every three days.

Link to the Vancouver Sun article here.

And 31 years ago! Below is the cover story of our first issue of City Farmer Newspaper in 1978.

Chickens In Soup

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Cartoon: Chickens Forced Out Of Town

By Michael Levenston
From City Farmer Newspaper (25 cents)
Volume 1, Number 1
August 1978

Growing your own vegetables in the city rarely makes the front page of the daily newspaper, but producing your own eggs and meat does. The Sun and Province newspapers have given a lot of coverage to the story of Gabriella Centenary who keeps chickens illegally at her Vancouver home.

Mrs. Centenary is on welfare and says, she must be resourceful. “Chickens make a lot of sense – I’ve got hereditary anemia and I need eggs and chicken meat for protein. I grow most of my own vegetables too, and the chickens are good for my garden.”

For over two years Mrs. Centenary has been doing battle with the City. Just recently in provincial court she was given a suspended sentence and put on probation for six months for breaking the by-law which makes it unlawful for any person in Vancouver to keep horses; cattle, swine, goats, ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, pigeons or bees.

It is lawful to keep hamsters, guinea pigs, tame mice, chinchillas, cats, rabbits or other small animals, snakes and other reptiles to a maximum of six each.

D.A. Morgan, Director of the Division of EnvironmentaI Health in Vancouver, is the man who must answer a complaint about a rooster crowing at four in the morning (and every five minutes after for several hours). He is not unfamiliar with chickens. At one time he raised them in the city. Now he raises them at his home on Bowen Island.

Mr. Morgan believes that the city is not the place for chickens, their manure attracts flies and their feed brings rats to the yard. The odour isn’t pleasant and slaughtering the birds can frighten a neighbour’s children. He says that there just isn’t enough room in the city for people to raise chickens.

But there are citizens in Vancouver who believe that chickens have a place in our city. They feel that barking dogs and noisy lawnmowers have less value than a high-protein, egg-producing hen. They say that most of their neighbours enjoy the chickens, which remind them of a peaceful country farm.

In the city the chickens must be kept in a clean environment, fed an adequate diet and given all the fresh pure water they will drink. These precautions ensure healthy animals.

Flies which are attracted to the ammonia in chicken wastes are put to good use. They are captured in traps and fed to the hens. Some studies have shown that at least a quarter of a chicken’s diet can be flies, another half weeds and other plant wastes, and their egg laying will still continue to equal that of chickens raised entirely on commercial feed.

Chicken manure is extremely rich in nitrogen which is needed in all plant life. It makes an excellent addition to the compost pile, which in turn helps produce better vegetables.

The inhabitants of a house in the city of Berkeley, California, who raise chickens, slaughter one per week in their backyard, yielding 16 ounces of meat. They estimate a production cost of 35 cents per pound. Their layers produce approximately 30 eggs per week at an estimated 40 cents per dozen.

Before chicken raising can become legal in Vancouver, it is necessary to begin a calm, intelligent exchange of information between those who are convinced that chickens have a place in the city and those who are not.
Correct standards for the management of chickens will have to be drawn up to ensure a healthy environment and permits should be sold to pay an inspector’s salary.

Short Film – The Bantam Menace

See it here.

3 comments

1 Edward { 03.07.09 at 1:24 pm }

Well, finally! I’ve been advocating this idea for years. I suspect that the prohibition had a lot more to do with classist anti-rural prejudices, as well as a means of keeping ‘ethnic’ communities under control, than any concern for chicken welfare. Three barking german shepherds is fine, but a chicken is bad?

A few hens around can have a calming effect, and produce food, as well as garden manure. Of course, there should be a few restrictions. Limits should be placed on number of hens (six – the same as other birds, perhaps?), roosters should not be permitted – they are far too noisy, far too early. And of course, hen welfare should be important.

The criticism of the SPCA’s Geoff Urton is well intentioned, but not wholly logical. If we applied this logic universally, we’d have to ban birds, cats, dogs, chicken, goldfish, too – not to mention children.

And Ray Nickel’s complaint is laughable. The commercial poultry industry may well have given us Avian Influenza through their own chicken-torturing greed.

Now, I have to go design my new hen house.

2 PthaloAttack { 05.17.11 at 8:00 am }

I found most of the people who are concerned about chickens in the city are unaware of how easy it is to care for these animals. Urban residents keep massive dogs in high rise apartments while the owners leave all day to work, and people are concerned about chickens getting enough exercise?
With responsible ownership, there should be no issues keeping any animal, provided any nuisances are eliminated. I can understand people complaining about odour, but the smell of keeping chickens isn’t anything compared to someone keeping a compost.
As long as proper care is given and cleaning is performed to keep a chicken coop sanitary (which is very easy, seeing how chicken poop dries up and can easily be separated from the straw/wood chips of the coop and tossed away or composted) there should be no reason why people can’t keep hens as pets and for their eggs. And the complaint about avian flu is ridiculous with all the pigeons in cities. That excuse doesn’t fly! People are looking too hard to find reasons against responsible chicken keeping. We’ve already allowed a number of animals to become our companions. Why not hens? They’re friendly, hilariously amusing, children will love and learn from them like they can from any animals. They pose no dangers of attack (pecking does not hurt). Any animal can cause health and odour issues if they’re not properly looked after. And dogs, the most commonly kept pets, are MUCH louder. As long as measures are taken to ensure chicken keepers are responsible (like they already do with all other animals) then chickens should be allowed, as long as they’re kept on the property of the owner. Same rules apply to any animal. And those that are trying to fight against it, why all the hate? We’re not trying to make you keep chickens on your property, why is there such an issue about what we do on ours? This issue stems from a lack of understanding, and people get the wrong idea when they consider chickens in the city. These animals aren’t going to be running around loose! They’ll be kept in yards, enclosed, out of sight from everyone. That’s not a problem. No one’s noticed my secret little hens, and I live on the corner of a main street in a large city! The noise of traffic, street cars, etc. completely obscures any sound. And at night, my 2 girls come inside to sleep on a roost in a dog crate lined with newspaper which is cleaned everyday. They go to bed at 930pm and wake up at 930am, and make no noise in their cage between those times. I clean their coop on a regular basis, and no one has to deal with them but me. No one can even see them! Yet they’re supposed to be a problem. I don’t believe it.

3 Cathy Frankel { 04.02.12 at 11:41 pm }

I would like help to set up a small chicken coop in my card,, I have idea where to start It is be in the Vancouver area. Sy suggestions?