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‘Ripe for change’: Calgary again to consider backyard chickens

For more than a decade, the city has bawked at the idea of pet poultry in Calgary.

Now, they don’t seem to be causing the same flap as they have in the past.

With the current review of Calgary Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) bylaw, 2021 might end up being the year of the chicken.

(FWIW, the next Year of the Rooster is 2029 and the last one was 2017.)

Most of the recent howl on the bylaw renewal has been around unruly dogs and their owners, but the group Calgary Backyard Chickens is hoping to bring these fowl up the pecking order.

“We’d like to see them change the bylaws to allow for urban hens,” said Teresa Tousignant, spokeswoman for Calgary Backyard Chickens.

“We have this existing pet ownership bylaw that seems like a logical place for it to go.”

Other cities in the area have backyard hen pilot projects. After a pilot project, Okotoks decided to allow backyard hens permanently in 2016. In April, Airdrie decided to extend their backyard hen pilot project to November 2020.

Okotoks limits the number of hens and has a regulated process. You can’t just go and get chickens and let them out in your backyard.

Tousignant also cited a Toronto pilot, which just wrapped up after three years. She said that there were few, if any, complaints.

“I think they only had maybe a couple of visits from the bylaw officer to one or two sites to check for any complications,” she said.

High interest in Calgary urban agriculture

Calgary Backyard Chickens is hoping to spread a positive poultry message across the city. SUPPLIED

Over the past decade, there’s been a boom in urban agriculture in Calgary. Community gardens have popped up across the city and people are harvesting more of their own food. The issue of food security, however, came to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s really a lot more interest in local food production, providing for yourself, ideas of self sufficiency. People are you know concerned in times of COVID about food stability,” said Tousignant.

“It’s been five years since the last time (urban chickens) were brought up in council. We feel like the current situation is ripe for change.”

Jennifer Lawlor, business strategist with the City of Calgary, said they have seen an increased interest in matters around urban agriculture. She said that’s been reflected in the feedback they’ve received thus far in the RPO survey.

“I’ve certainly seen those themes reflected in some of what we heard in phase one,” Lawlor said.

Other pilot projects across Canada

Lawlor said they’re keeping tabs on the other urban hen projects across the country and will use those experiences to create a potential bylaw.

Both Lawlor and Tousignant said that the common concerns seem to pop up: potential noise, odour and concern over the attraction of predators to city yards.

“That’s some of the stuff we’ve heard in the engagement as well,” Lawlor said.

Tousignant said dispelling addressing some of those concerns is what their group hopes to do. She said for one, most municipalities ban roosters because of the noise. Hens, for their part, aren’t much louder than a typical human conversation. Predators would only be an issue if the coop wasn’t fully enclosed, Tousignant said.

“The bylaw they put in place would regulate those sorts of things,” she said.

“They’re actively considered in every city that passes bylaws. Once it’s enacted, there’s almost never a problem.”

Lawlor said once all the public feedback is taken into consideration, the city will go about crafting potential changes to the RPO bylaw. She wasn’t certain if urban hens could be included in the current bylaw, or if a new one would have to be written.

That work is expected to come to council by the spring of 2021.

Calgary Backyard Chickens will be out this weekend at the Zero Waste Festival.

That will go ahead from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the ContaineR Site – 1020 2 Ave NW. Bring a T-shirt and they’ll provide the organization’s silkscreen logo.