Prince Rupert City Council is considering a bylaw change that would allow some residents to keep chickens on their property for the purpose of harvesting fresh eggs.
The initiative is the brainchild of Samantha Lewis, a second-year science student at NWCC.
Lewis – who grew up on a farm and has plenty of experience raising chickens – says that allowing Rupertites to keep up to four chickens per household makes for a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable Prince Rupert, which she argues lines up well with the city’s Quality of Life Official Community Plan which explicitly lists creating “a truly sustainable community” as one of its goals.
“I’m here to propose a relatively simple way for Prince Rupert to become a greener and more sustainable city: by allowing backyard hens,” Lewis told council at their meeting on Monday.
“Some of the most obvious benefits of keeping backyard chickens are that it promotes food security, sustainable farming practices and it also helps reduce the carbon footprint of the city. They’re effective composters, they’re also educative, and provide free organic fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. They also fight factory farm abuse; for every chicken you own, that’s one less chicken that needs to spend its life in dark factory farms.”
The urban farming movement is nothing new. Many communities have been trying out the idea BC, Canada and the United States. The city of Vancouver now allows backyard chickens and Smithers’ city council is considering the issue as well.
Lewis came to the council meeting well-prepared. Her presentation not only contained a proposed bylaw complete with a licensing scheme and zoning restrictions, a petition of support with over 300 signatures, and she also tried to address many of the common concerns raised about urban chickens when the idea has been brought up in other communities.
Under her system, Prince Rupert’s prohibition against the raising of livestock inside city limits would be amended to exclude laying hens. Roosters, which are the cause of the most noise by chickens would continue to be prohibited.
A single-family or duplex residence would be allowed to keep up to a total of four backyard hens once a license is obtained from the city. To maintain that license, chicken owners must adhere to a number of conditions:
The hens must be completely fenced into the yard or side yard where they are being kept, their coop must be at least three metres away from anybody’s windows. They must be kept in a proper chicken coop complete with a floor, perches, a roof, nesting boxes. The chickens must be locked in their coop overnight to protect them from predators and will be required to clean their coop out once a week which will prevent any noticeable smell.
The chickens may not be kept in a cages and must be given enough open ground outside the coop so the can walk around, scratch and dust-bathe which are essential behaviours for chickens. Their feed must also be stored indoors to prevent attracting pests.
The chickens are to be kept specifically personal use of their eggs, residents will not be allowed to sell the eggs, manure or meat from the chickens, and they will certainly not be allowed to slaughter their chickens on their property, but instead be required to take them to the vet to be euthanized when the time comes, this would essentially render them inedible anyway — nesting hens are notoriously tough to eat as meat to begin with,
If someone with chickens is violating these rules, then they can be reported to the city and a bylaw officer would be sent over to inspect problem. If someone is convicted of violating the city’s bylaw, Lewis suggests a fine be charged to the offender increasing every day until the problem is fixed, up to a maximum of $2,000.
Overall, the council seemed very receptive to the idea, but not without a few concerns. One of them was the practicality of preventing people from slaughtering their own chickens for their meat.
Another concern for councillors was what would happen if someone couldn’t take care of their chickens any longer. The wildlife shelter and SPCA are strapped for cash and filled to bursting with animals already, considering that the area already has issues with strays, would abandoned chickens become a problem?
“It can be an issue if people are slaughtering chickens in their own backyards, that is a valid concern . . . To be honest, this whole proposal is more directed towards the eating of eggs, so for simplicity’s sake I suggest people don’t eat the birds at anytime. As far as abandoning chickens, I’ve never heard of somebody doing such a thing and if they did I can guarantee the chicken would not last long,” says Lewis.
Council decided to have staff contact other BC municipalities that do allow backyard and see how they have fared since the decision and what challenges they have faced, then give a report to council before the issue will be considered further.
If you want to look more closely at Lewis’ proposal, it is available to read here.