The Urban Chicken

Is the urban chicken looming on your horizon?

Is the urban chicken coming to a backyard near you? If you’ve been keeping an eye on my Twitter posts the past few weeks, you’ll know I’ve been keeping an eye on the urban chicken.

As the push for sustainability grows in communities across North America, more and more municipalities are beginning to embrace initiatives like community gardens, farmers’ markets, community ovens, and local food policies. And, it’s very appropriate that they do so, since food has such an enormous impact on community health and wellness.

One of the more contentious issues that has recently emerged out of this growing interest in local food involves backyard chickens. This spring, the City of Vancouver became the latest in a number of cities that have endorsed the concept. The move followed months of study and consultation by city staff, which resulted in the development and approval of formal guidelines for the keeping of backyard hens, as well as an amendment to the animal control by-law.

In making the urban chicken legal, Vancouver joins the ranks of other urban centres such as New York, Seattle, Portland, Saskatoon, Chicago, and Victoria. Other cities that have recently had the issue brought forward for discussion include Ottawa, Calgary, London, Kingston, and Toronto.

In communities where the idea has been rejected, there are typically concerns voiced about odour, noise, disease, and attracting unwanted wildlife. As evidenced by the growing list of cities that approve of the birds, however, those fears can often be addressed through local regulations.

One important issue that has been raised is about care – more specifically, animal cruelty. The BC SPCA voiced concerns that people with little or no experience might purchase the hens (often on impulse), with no ability to recognize symptoms or disease; provide or determine proper nutrition; access appropriate veterinary care; or deal with issues related to housing, transportation, or humane euthanization. The organization is recommending that the city create a licensing program, to ensure that potential backyard egg farmers are serious in undertaking the commitment required.

In most cases, communities that allow backyard chickens rely on guidelines for care, as well as restrictions on the number of birds allowed. Vancouver is also addressing some of the concerns by building a shelter for abandoned or impounded chickens.

In addition, in cities (like Vancouver) where there is already an established urban hen community (recognizing that practice is not always consistent with policy – and sometimes policy needs to catch up), help and guidance is usually close at hand. In Vancouver, backyard chicken workshops are ongoing, and a litany of websites also provide assistance (see <justfood.org>, <poultryone.com> and <backyardchickens.com> to name just a few).

It’s evident that local food is “hot.” And, if you haven’t already addressed the issue, it’s more than likely that the urban chicken looms on your horizon.

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