For nearly 30 years Vancouver has had by-laws against raising chickens in the city, and for nearly 30 years there has been debate over legalizing backyard hens; City Farmer Newspaper’s first issue in 1978 featured the debate. Health concerns, noise complaints and animal welfare top the lists of reasons not to allow urban chickens. A city farmer can tend to a vegetable patch, plant a rutabaga, or prune an apple tree with little controversy. But put a hen in the veggie patch, and sparks fly. Yet “off-the-books” flocks fly under city by-law radar from New Haven, Conn., to Vancouver.
In recent years, urban agriculture has been catapulted onto centre stage by local food enthusiasts as a way for nearly half the world’s population that lives in urban areas to re-connect with where their food comes from, and to minimize the harmful environmental impact of our globalized and industrialized food system. This movement has rallied momentum behind a movement to legalize city hens, and major cities across the continent are being added to the hen friendly list—New York, Portland and Seattle are just a few.
On March 6, 2009, Vancouver city councilors passed a motion to amend the city’s Animal Control By-Laws to allow Vancouverites to raise backyard chickens.
I trust that the people in Vancouver that choose to raise a few hens in their backyard will take the time to learn how to properly take care of them—eager Vancouverites have already (responsibly) overwhelmed Heather Haven’s workshop on raising backyard chickens. A properly built coop will keep flocks safe from potential predators, and anyone with a thriving vegetable patch knows that raccoons and skunks are already prevalent pests in Vancouver—we won’t be drawing these animals out from the wild with the addition of a few hens.
Most by-laws concerning city chickens prohibit raising roosters, which makes sense because they are the noisy ones. A hen can make many sounds, but by most accounts they are quite pleasant. Health concerns can be mitigated by keeping flock numbers limited to less then four hens, not allowing backyard slaughter, learninghow to best clean and care for your chickens and giving them enough space (1.5 square feet in the coop, and 8 sq-ft of “run” per chicken).
But Vancouverites cannot bring chicks home yet—the by-laws have not been written, the city council has only moved to amend them. City staff are working on the set of policy guidelines to address the amendment and help define the “rules”; these will probably be completed in summer 2009. They’ll be working with health authorities, animal welfare groups and other municipalities to develop these guidelines.
Personally, I hope that the amendments are made, and that Vancouverites will be able to enjoy fresh and flavourful homegrown eggs this summer. If my mom’s chickens are any example, they can make incredibly loyal pets and amazing garden buddies. Perhaps one day we’ll have our own Tour d’Coop.
To voice your opinion on chickens in Vancouver, drop a quick email to mayor and council.