Citizens flock to meeting in support of backyard laying hen proposal

Residents of the town’s three urban centres may soon be able to raise a few laying hens in their backyard.

After hearing from citizens at a well-attended public meeting on Sept. 17, town council is expected to make a decision at its next regular meeting on proposed changes to the municipality’s exotic animal bylaw to allow backyard chicken coops on a limited scale.

In May, council passed a resolution requesting a staff report on correspondence from Connie Murray of Clifford, who proposed the town allow backyard chicken coops.

Murray was raising chickens on her property in Clifford, which resulted in a complaint to the town.

Murray’s request led council to hold a public meeting to obtain feedback on a proposed bylaw amendment that would allow the coops, subject to certain restrictions and standards, which include:

– no more than five hens allowed on a residential property as an accessory use where eggs produced are for use only by occupants of the residence;

– pens must be regularly cleaned and disinfected, and maintained with sufficient water and feed;

– on-site manure storage is not allowed except in odour-free containers;

– no part of any pen can be less than 33 feet (10 metres) from any part of a church or residence building (including the on-site residence); and

– a minimum setback of 10 feet (three metres) from any interior side or rear lot line. No pens would be allowed in front or exterior side yards.

At last week’s public meeting, Murray told council that, properly taken care of, backyard operations, “Don’t smell like a big chicken farm would.”

In addition, she said, “They’ve very quiet. You can ask any of my neighbours except for the one that complained. They’re quiet. It’s not like dogs that bark all the time.”

While noting the five-bird limit wouldn’t be a problem for her, Murray expressed concern the proposed setback requirements could make it difficult to locate a coop on her property, or many others.

Julia Lackey, a Mount Forest resident who recently moved from Guelph, said there were no problems in the city, where backyard chicken operations were permitted.

“I didn’t have a problem with it. They didn’t smell. As long as they’re being taken care of properly, I don’t see the harm in it. If people are complaining then they’re just complainers,” she said. “The guy two doors down with the dog was more of an issue.”

Harriston resident Bill van Sickle spoke in favor of the changes.

“We have an acre and a half. Behind us is Speare Seeds, in another direction is somebody’s lawn and another direction is a field … I’d like to have some chickens, I don’t see how it would be any more of a problem than somebody’s dog or cat could be,” he stated. “You have to have some idea of what you’re doing and do it properly and it shouldn’t be annoying to anybody.”

Denise Riddols of Harriston questioned the proposal, but suggested the proposed setback would severely limit the potential for urban chicken raising.

“If you say 33 feet, then basically no one in any of these lots that are 66 feet can have chickens,” she pointed out.

“I’m not saying I’m against having chickens in a backyard. I’m concerned about chickens in my backyard,” said Riddols. “If I sit on my back deck eating my dinner am I going to be able to see the chickens, my neighbour’s chickens, and their chicken manure, and their pens – am I going to see that? On a windy day am I going to have chicken feces blowing over on my yard?” She added, “Where I live I can hear coyotes. If I’m in the backyard late at night and there’s chickens at my neighbours’ and the coyote’s coming to get the chickens, is that going to affect me?”

Riddols also pointed out, “Chicken feces too is something that is known to have salmonella.”

Noting most of those in attendance seemed to support the proposal, Minto resident Vince Tkaczuk, said, “I guess in this room the quickest thing to do is say ‘Who is actually opposed to this?’”

Council members pointed out that one person at the meeting had spoken against the proposal and two pieces of correspondence had been received opposing the idea.

“I must say that I’ve had phone calls at home and people approached me on the street and spoke and I have not recorded that,” said deputy mayor Ron Faulkner. “So I’m not sure that’s a valid question, Vince, because I think that comes down to the evidence and the factual things that are presented to the council and they have to make that decision,” said deputy mayor Ron Faulkner.

Tkaczuk said, “If someone was vehemently opposed to chickens they would be more than likely to send something in, or at least show up, right?”

Tkaczuk’s Bell’s Edge Farm won the Town of Minto’s 2015 Pitch It! business plan competition for a custom-designed mobile combination chicken coop and green roof garden system dubbed “the Free Ranger.”

Tkaczuk said, “there’s no sense reinventing the wheel” and suggested Minto would be wise to copy a Guelph bylaw, which has been in place since 1985. “It’s one page – it has very little lawyer jargon, not too many ten-dollar words,” he said. “Basically, copy this and do any minor tweaks that would be associated with this area.”

Palmerston native Chad Martin, who now lives in Brantford, said he keeps chickens on his property there.

“There’s no noise. The neighbours have never even noticed a smell,” said Martin, who added he “experimented” by waiting to see how long it would take for his neighbours to notice the birds. “It took them three months and we actually told them we had chickens because we offered them eggs,” he said. “And that was when they learned. So anyone complaining about potential smell or hazards, it’s really not there.”

Tkaczuk asked what penalties exist in the current bylaw for someone keeping chickens.

CAO Bill White said the bylaw officer would investigate any concerns and penalties could include confiscation of the birds.

 “In most cases with bylaw infractions we try to work with the individuals to eliminate the problem,” said Mayor George Bridge. “If someone just ignored us totally we’d have to take action.”

In response to suggestions that proposed setbacks would prohibit chicken coops on most residential lots, White stated, “Just to be clear, it’s 10 metres from a building. It’s not (from) a lot line. That’s what we advertised and we felt like … even on a smaller property at the back of the lot you could probably find a place to do it.”