Minto ponders proposal for backyard chicken coops

A public meeting will be held here to allow town council to obtain feedback on a proposal to allow residents to raise chickens in their backyards.

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.

Four letters were received supporting an amendment to the town’s exotic animal control bylaw to allow chickens to be kept in residential areas.

“The letters support raising and keeping of hens in residential areas as a source of locally-produced food and better tasting organic eggs, while creating less waste, companionship and lower food bills,” states a report from CAO Bill White presented at the July 7 meeting.

“Should council proceed to consider permitting some form of backyard hen care, issues are likely to be raised regarding odour, attracting predators, standards and enforcement. Issues regarding humane animal care could arise,” White noted in his report.

The CAO suggested a public meeting be held to obtain feedback on a proposed bylaw amendment that would allow the coops, subject to certain restrictions and standards.

“Our feeling is that before we do anything, we think we need to get some information from the public about a) whether we’re on the right track with these type of rules, or b) whether we ought to be doing it at all,” White told council.

Proposed restrictions 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 is closer than 33 feet (10 metres) from any part of a church or residence building (including the on-site residence); and

– 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.

The report points out a number of Ontario municipalities, including Guelph, Kingston, Quinte West and Niagara Falls, allow chickens in residential backyards. All impose restrictions on the practice and some require licences.

In addition, said White, the City of Owen Sound is “right in the midst of this argument.” While noting there are some benefits to backyard hens, the Bruce Grey Owen Sound Health Unit advised the council in that city that “avian flu is a significant risk” and questioned how backyard hens would be monitored.

The health unit also pointed out education would be needed on reportable disease, washing eggs, and cooking.

“Is this a serious issue in the Town of Minto?” asked councillor Dave Turton. “Have we got one issue?”

White replied, “As far as I know there is only the one situation, but it is becoming more and more popular and, lucky enough, the issue arose and we have a chance to deal with it so we’ll be ready to handle it.”

Turton asked how the program was working in Guelph.

“They’ve had no problems. They’ve got a lot of these restrictions,” said Mayor George Bridge.

Bridge said the concept, “falls right in with what we’ve been trying to do with community gardens, with all the things that we’ve been working on to have people grow  a little bit of local food … I think this is something that people will want going forward and we might as well deal with it up front.”

“I think it’s a wonderful proposal and I’d like to see it,” said councillor Mary Lou Colwell. However she noted, “the health unit concerns seem very real to me.”

“The one that struck me is egg preparation and handling,” said White, adding, “in a licensing situation, that could be handled.”

Licensing requirements would also help with issues like monitoring and dealing with potential avian flu issues, he noted.

Councillor Judy Dirksen suggested input should be obtained from egg and poultry farming organizations before allowing chickens in residential backyards.

“I think there’s a certain responsibility to the agricultural feather industry as a whole as well, and avian flu is just one of those concerns,” she pointed out.

“I think it’s a marvellous idea … it’s a question of keeping them clean like all pets,” said councillor Jean Anderson. However, she wondered,  “who’s going to police that and monitor it?”

Anderson continued, “Because if they’re going to have five or six (hens), unless they have a whole lot of kids they’re going to have surplus eggs … so there’s going to be some backyard trading of eggs whether we like it or not.”

Bridge responded, “I’m sure there are a lot more chickens that are out there providing eggs for people that are in people’s backyards that we don’t know about. And now we’ll have a license the same as kennels.

“When we do find a situation that isn’t licensed, we can go after them.”

Anderson cautioned, “I’d hate to see another onerous task added to the town staff people; monitoring chickens pens that we’ve now discovered because the neighbours are going to complain and report them and then you go, ‘Oh, now we’ve got 100 chicken coops to inspect once a month.”

A resolution to receive the staff report and direct staff to arrange a public meeting on the issue passed with Bridge and councillors Colwell, Turton, Dirksen, Anderson and Ron Elliott in favour. Deputy mayor Ron Faulkner was opposed.