By Trevor Busch
A renewed campaign to loosen municipal restrictions around keeping backyard chickens in the community is underway, and the Town of Taber has been re-examining the issue to determine if it holds enough merit to make a change.
At town council’s April 27 meeting, Danielle Jorgensen-Kenyon delivered her “Backyard Hens” presentation which detailed many of the programs already in place in communities in other parts of Alberta, as well as the benefits involved. Currently, Sec. 3 of Exotic and Wild Animal Bylaw 6-2007 does not allow possession or ownership of poultry within the corporate limits of the Town of Taber. Penalties for initial violations of the bylaw range from $100-$400, with fines of $1,000 for subsequent violations.
“I made a decision at the time to research and learn as much as I could in hopes to one day stand in front of you and ask for change,” said Jorgensen-Kenyon, referencing a previous attempt to change the town’s bylaw in May 2018, and her subsequent creation of a Backyard Hens Taber Facebook page which has seen some growth and interest from local residents. “I’ve done my due diligence, invested my time and money, and now I’m here to ask for change.”
Beyond being an affordable source of eggs offering a degree of food security, Jorgensen-Kenyon argued backyard hens reduce weeds and insects, create excellent compost, aerate the soil, and reduce packaging and transportation costs. She suggested implementing regulations similar to other municipalities in Canada, such as restricting roosters and limiting numbers of hens (between 3-8), setbacks for coops from neighbouring properties, what fines will be in place if rules are violated, and certification in a proper training course. According to Jorgensen-Kenyon, these kinds of regulations would go a long way to alleviating concerns regarding smell, noise, pests and diseases.
“There’s just so many benefits to having them that go above and beyond just eggs,” said Jorgensen-Kenyon, who looked into existing programs in Okotoks, High River and St. Albert. “None of those things are a small, backyard coop. These are regulated, they need to stay clean. The people that are wanting to go for this are area people that are providing for their families, and these small groups of hens are going to become part of the family, pets even. So it’s not a farm operation, it’s not millions of flies, and smell.”
Jorgensen-Kenyon recommended a Chickens 101 course offered by River City Chickens, which she herself has completed, and covers urban chicken topics like coop design, feeding and general care, winter needs and concerns, breed selection, buying hens and flock introduction, predator and vermin prevention, waste management, disease recognition and control, end of life options, and biosecurity.
“Having recently completed this course myself, I understand how vital this course, or similar training is for citizens to have an accurate understanding of what urban hen keeping looks like before they commit,” stated Jorgensen-Kenyon in her written presentation. “The course is Alberta-made and focuses on considerations that need to be made in our area such as appropriate winter housing, suitable breeds for our climate, disease and pest issues common to our province.”
Eschewing an “all or nothing” approach, Jorgensen-Kenyon was asking council to consider one of three options, including amending town bylaws to allow residents to keep six hens with associated rules and fines; conduct a two-year pilot project to assess what backyard hens would look like in Taber; or allow properly prepared individuals to apply on a case-by-case basis for the permission of council to keep six hens.
“There is a balance, and it’s possible for us to find that balance,” said Jorgensen-Kenyon.
Suggesting the possibility of a slippery slope, Coun. Jack Brewin came out in immediate opposition to any alteration of the town’s bylaw.
“I’m concerned about if you allow up to six chickens per yard, and you’ve got a town block, you’ve got a lot of chickens. I don’t know for sure if this is really a viable thing in town. I think it attracts more pests than it does good. Sorry, I cannot support this.”
Coun. Carly Firth, on the other hand, appeared much more amenable to the possibility of the idea reaching fruition for the community.
“I appreciate when residents take the initiative and do the research and present the information in such a comprehensive manner. I think this is a really good presentation, it certainly opened my eyes. The thing that I found the most reassuring was the training course. I thought that was a very practical addition so that people know what they’re getting themselves into should we decide to go forward with this.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas wanted to personally investigate the examples provided by Jorgensen-Kenyon before making any decisions.
“This intrigues me, but I would like to go to Okotoks and have a look at a few of these before I made a decision ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’ It kind of intrigues me, and I would like to have a look at these, from a personal point of view, just to see what it is. Maybe a couple of us could drive up there, have a look, scout around, take some pictures and report back to council…just to enlighten ourselves before we make a decision one way or another.”
Firth was in favour of one of Jorgensen-Kenyon’s recommendations of a two-year pilot program.
“I, too, am intrigued by this. I think it’s innovative; although not so innovative that we would be the first ones doing it, which is key in my opinion. But I think that perhaps we could direct administration to develop a two year pilot project to at least see what this would look like for the Town of Taber, as well as do our own research by visiting other municipalities that allow backyard hens.”
CAO Cory Armfelt recommended giving administration until at least the end of May to research the possibility of a bylaw change and other programs in place in municipalities in Alberta.
“I’m not questioning the veracity of Miss Kenyon’s presentation, I think it was very excellent,” said Coun. Garth Bekkering. “But I think it would behoove us to have administration do some research with independent eyes and come back with a recommendation of some sort. But I’m sorry, I can’t get excited about it.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to direct administration to collect additional information and create a research document outlining what a backyard hens program might look like for the Town of Taber, to be brought back for council’s review at a subsequent meeting.