Backyard chickens – take the survey

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by Beverly Frans

   I’m no farmer, but for the last three years I’ve enjoyed fresh eggs from my own chickens. Chickens who spend their days scratching and pecking at weeds and bugs and whose eggs have yolks the colour of oranges. Chickens who have lived a rather luxurious life, as chicken-lives go, and who have names and personalities. A real farmer would likely roll her eyes to hear me carry on about my girls. My flock is small, as I only need enough eggs to feed my own little family of three and my parents, who live next door. With 8 laying hens; 5 young and vigorous, and 3 semi-retired, we have plenty left over for giving away. No one ever turns down fresh free-range eggs.

Keeping a small flock of chickens requires at least as much preparation and commitment as keeping a pet dog. Luckily, there are resources galore at the library, on the internet and in the community to educate yourself. You have to be certain that you will be able to keep both your chickens and your neighbours happy. Chickens need to be safe from predators, properly fed and watered, and sheltered from the elements. Neighbours want no extra enticement for rodents or flies, and assurance that their gardens will not be molested by roving flocks of hungry or dust-bathing hens. My personal opinion is that if you can manage a dog, a birdfeeder and a compost bin in your backyard without offending the neighbours or attracting vermin, then you can care for chickens as well. Plus, with chickens, you can at least offer fresh eggs to compensate for the brief but triumphant call heard after each egg is laid. I’d rather a few hens next door than a dog that barks at squirrels all day.

Of course, you also have to make sure that it’s legal to keep chickens where you live. When we moved to Mississippi Mills from rural Ottawa, one factor we considered when purchasing a house was whether we would be able to keep our chickens. We had considered buying a house in Almonte that had a large yard and a suitable out-building, but decided against it because we didn’t want to violate the livestock by-law.

The locavore and slow food movements have raised the issue of keeping chickens on plots and backyards within highly populated areas. Currently, chickens are permitted to be kept in New York City, Chicago, Vancouver, Guelph, Brampton, and many other cities and towns in North America, though Toronto city council recently decided not to pursue a study on the issue. There has been much controversy over the last few years. Supporters laud the availability of cruelty- and antibiotic- free eggs. Objectors raise sanitary issues and the fact that chicken feed can attract rats. There is, of course, the issue of noise, especially if a rooster is involved, but roosters are not required to produce eggs. Currently, the keeping of chickens is prohibited in Almonte, Pakenham and the hamlets. What is your view? The Millstone has set up a survey which will be open until February 10 to receive your opinions. We shall then publish the results.

Take the survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LW9LX83