By Trevor Busch
Taberites hoping to feather nests with some fowl friends will be sadly disappointed after town council defeated a motion proposing backyard chickens in a split 5-2 vote.
On April 27, Danielle Jorgensen-Kenyon attended council as a delegation to request that municipal bylaws be changed to allow residents to raise hens in their backyards. Council directed administration to research the concept further and bring back a report. Administration contacted several municipalities who have implemented backyard hen programs or pilot projects for their input, and consulted several guidebooks related to keeping urban poultry.
Ultimately, each municipality faced little to no complaint regarding their programs, administration concluded. In cases where complaints were received, the problem was always rectified by the owner of the coop and did not need to be escalated. Several municipalities were asked if they felt their programs contributed to rodents, pests, or predators and all responses indicated there was no clear increase as a result of the program. Ensuring hens are secured in the coop each night and proper storage of feed reduces attention on backyard coops.
“Allowing residents to raise backyard chickens provides them with opportunities to teach children about raising livestock, allows them to know where their food is coming from, and provides food security,” reads a statement from administration as part of council’s May 25 meeting agenda. “Requiring residents to complete mandatory third party training to obtain a license ensures they are aware of the time, resources, and care needed to raise hens. The financial cost to take training also ensures a level of commitment to the program.”
According to administration’s research, municipalities take a variety of approaches to limit the number of licenses they will issue. Some municipalities provide no limits (St. Albert) while others have a set number of licenses they will allow (Airdrie), and still others determine the total number of licenses on a per capita basis (Crossfield). In no case did municipalities limit the number of licenses that would be issued on one block or within a certain distance of one another. All municipalities contacted indicated their programs were not “overly popular” and only a few residents per year apply to keep hens.
“I’ve had a lot of negative feedback from town residents when they read this,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “Unfortunately I didn’t get an opportunity to get up north and see one of these facilities, but the way it sits presently right now with all of the negative feedback I’ve had, and the disparaging comments that we would even consider something like this, I’m afraid I can’t vote in favour of proceeding ahead with this motion.”
Guides for urban hen keepers and standards required by other municipalities were reviewed to determine sufficient standards for the well-being of urban hens. Hen coops must be a clean, draft-free and insulated indoor environment, include an enclosed outdoor space for daytime use that protects hens from predators, and various spacing, nesting and perching requirements.
Recommendations from administration had detailed some of the regulations that would be advantageous to have in place if the municipality had been interested in loosening poultry restrictions.
In order for administration to properly review applications and ensure standards are met every application package should include proof of completion of an education course approved by the Town of Taber to ensure applicants are aware of the cost, time, and care needed to raise backyard hens.
Topics discussed include biosecurity, end of life options, predators and vermin prevention, and breed selection.
“I’ve had the same feedback that Councellor Strojwas has had,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “I’ve spoken to neighbours and the general public, they think it’s kind of funny that we would even consider it. I cannot vote in favour of this.”
Popular courses used by other municipalities include Alberta Farm Animal Care online sessions and River City Chicken Collective online sessions. Alberta’s Premise Identification Regulation requires anyone keeping livestock or poultry, including poultry in urban settings, to register their animals utilizing a Proof of Premise Identification Number (PID).
“I find that surprising,” said Coun. Carly Firth, referencing the negative feedback received by other councillors. “I thought this — both the presentation that we had at our last meeting, and this presentation — were very well researched, and I thought that there were plenty of considerations taken to mitigate any nuisances or any risk that would potentially arise for neighbours or adjacent properties. So I would be in favour of this.”
Another requirement administration recommended would be a Site Plan indicating the size and location of the hen house in respect to property lines and the dwelling on the property. This would allow Planning and Economic Development to ensure the proposed coop adheres to the Town of Taber’s Land Use Bylaw, including setbacks and size standards, and allow them to assist with building and electrical permit applications where necessary. Other regulations would include a building permit if the proposed coop was over 10 m2, and an electrical permit application if it would have any electricity, such as heat lamps.
“We’ve had them here before in years past, and there may be some now, actually, as well as other livestock here in town,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “It’s certainly not uncommon. I thought the original presentation was very well done a few weeks back, as well as Ms. Monks’ (planning director) thorough research. Okotoks was the example that was kind of set up there, and I liked what I saw there, and it seemed to be reasonable. I would support Councellor Firth’s suggestion.”
Following discussion, council voted 5-2 to defeat a motion directing administration to draft a bylaw to allow residents to raise up to four hens in their backyards and other particulars included in the report to council. Prokop and Firth were the sole votes in favour of the motion.
Proposed fees for hen licenses, appeals, and fines would have been outlined in a Backyard Hen Bylaw if the project had moved forward. Administration recommended setting the fee for a hen license higher than other animal control licenses, as applications would require review from the Planning and Economic Development Department and circulation to neighbours. A fee of $50 per year would make the license the same cost as a Development Permit for a shed (which also requires circulation to neighbours). Other municipalities range from $20 per chicken up to $75 per license.