City considers building a shelter for homeless chickens
Now that some homeowners are allowed to keep the birds, officials expect some to be abandoned when reality sets in
VANCOUVER - Anticipating a wave of buyers’ remorse, city staff are recommending the city build a special shelter for hens they expect will be abandoned by owners having second thoughts.
The 36-page report to city council details every change the city will have to make before backyard egg farmers will be allowed to set up shop. In March 2009, council lifted a 30-year prohibition on keeping urban hens and directed staff to develop the guidelines.
The report deals with everything from the decibel levels of crowing roosters, which will not be allowed, to pest control techniques to ward off marauding rats hunting for chicken feed.
Apartment dwellers will not be allowed to keep chickens on their patios, as the guidelines say only single- and multi-family homes will be allowed to house hens.
The report recommends the city spend $20,000 of the community services budget to build a facility at the Vancouver Animal Control shelter to house seized or abandoned hens.
“Even now we get the odd hen or rooster in the shelter,” said Tom Hammel, the city’s chief licence inspector. “So there will be more.”
To keep the numbers down, as well as reduce the risk of avian flu, the report says residents may keep no more than four hens, which must be older than four months.
“We don’t want people buying cute fuzzy chicks on impulse and then finding out they don’t want them,” said Hammel.
Jordan Maynard, manager of Southlands Farm in Vancouver, says some urban chicken farmers may get fed up with their hens if they buy the wrong breed.
“If they get birds that are bred for meat they won’t be suitable for the backyard. Those birds are pathetic. They don’t walk properly and they grow too fast and they will just lay on their side and not lay eggs,” he said.
Also, hens usually stop laying eggs after about six years and residents may not want to kill them, but they may not want to keep them either, he said. “It depends on whether people come to think of them as pets.”
People who tire of their chickens won’t have a problem finding them new homes, Maynard said. “I’ve heard that someone on Saltspring Island is starting a retirement home for chickens.”
Hammel said the city does not recommend people give away their hens to large chicken farms because of the risk of spreading avian flu to commercial stocks.
The report includes guidelines to minimize odour, stating that coops must only be kept in a back or side yard, and that owners must remove the manure and keep the food and water inside the coop.
Those who want to kill their hens must take them to a veterinarian or farm for slaughter.
The guidelines will go before the planning and environment committee next Thursday. Should the committee approve, the report will go to public hearing May 18.
Health concerns and noise complaints were the main reasons urban chickens were not allowed in the past. But now the city says chickens have important environmental benefits.
The about-face comes as the city strives to be the greenest in the world. According to the report, by providing eggs for urban residents and fertilizer for urban gardens, backyard hens contribute to local food production, which “reduces the city’s carbon footprint.”
Hammel said there will be an online registry that owners must sign so the city can locate the chickens in case of an outbreak of disease. There will be no licence fee to keep the birds.