News Local

Family fighting to keep their chickens

By Mark Hoult, Community Press

TRENT HILLS -Shawn and Kelly Bacher's seven chickens will remain in their coop in the couple's backyard on Doxsee Street in Campbellford -- at least until the municipality carries out a policy review on the keeping of chickens in urban areas.

Council voted last week to authorize staff to prepare terms of reference for the policy review, giving the Bacher family some hope they can persuade the municipality to make changes to a zoning bylaw prohibiting the raising of farm animals, including chickens, in urban residential zones.

The couple and their 12- year-old daughter Kayla have kept the laying hens on their one-acre property for two years, raising them as both pets and as a source of fresh eggs.

The municipality's bylaw department, after recently receiving a complaint about the hens, served notice to the couple that they are in violation of the bylaw and must stop keeping the animals in their backyard.

The couple responded by circulating a petition and making their case to council. They have asked the municipality to change the zoning bylaw to allow residents to keep a limited number of hens -- but no roosters -- within the town limits.

"Keeping hens would enable residents to provide a nutritious, delicious, safe and environmentally- friendly eggs for their families, while at the same time teaching our children where food comes from, and what it is worth," said Kelly Bacher in a statement to council and staff.

She said backyard hens have been part of the cityscape of New York for years and are also allowed in Seattle, Chicago and Portland and several cities in Ontario, including Niagara Falis, Brampton, Guelph and, most recently, Quinte West.

Bacher urged council to allow Trent Hills to follow suit.

"Please let us join millions of other city dwellers in North America who are allowed to provide eggs for our families by keeping a few hens in the backyard," she said, suggesting that an amended bylaw could address public concerns about health risks and noise by limiting the number of chickens, having confinement and distance requirements and implementing a permit system for the keeping of hens in urban backyards.

Bacher said she and her family have kept their hens in a proper bottomless chicken coop, which allows the animals free range running, pecking, scratching and eating.

"We've had children from all over come to visit our chickens, which is so educational," she said. "It teaches children where our food comes from and to be responsible pet owners. We have a seniors apartment complex beside us and a couple of the ladies love to sit and watch them."

Bacher said both the growing of vegetables and the raising of animals are considered agricultural uses. However, urban residents can plant vegetable gardens, but can't raise a limited number of chickens.

"My point is, you can't make an exception for one thing and not the other. It's not like I have 200 chickens running amok."

But planning director Jim Peters stressed in his report that raising farm animals of any kind is not an accepted use under the municipality's zoning bylaw. The growing of fruits and vegetables is an historically accepted use within an urban area, but the raising of chickens and rabbits is not viewed as an historically accepted use in urban residential zones or downtown areas, he said.

"As well, given that Trent Hills has a strong rural and agricultural economy, there has been an ease of access to farm produce either at the farm gate, farmers markets or through local grocery stores," he said. "It is my view that given the primarily rural nature of Trent Hills, that there are properties available where home owners can have chickens. If any properties in the urban areas are considered, it would be those on the edge of each urban area with larger lots."

Councillors Kim McNeil and Eugene Brahaney said they are firmly opposed to allowing farm animals on urban properties.

"What concerns me is, how do we as a municipality police it, what kind of work is it going to put on us in terms of policing," McNeil said. "In Toronto maybe yes, but here there are farms all around and all kinds of eggs. So I would not support it."

Brahaney said farming practices have already come under fire from some rural residents.

"Just recently someone complained about a rooster crowing in the countryside. I just can't support this."

Mayor Hector Macmillan said the municipality is "just asking for trouble" if it starts bringing agriculture into the urban centres.

"I think it's just wrong to have animals in the urban centres. What's next? Where do we draw the line? Cattle, swine, sheep?"

But Deputy Mayor Rosemary Kelleher-MacLennan and councillors Meirion Jones and Bob Crate said they would be in favour of doing a policy review on the issue. Crate said he could support keeping hens in urban areas if the numbers are controlled and safeguards are put in place.

Kelleher-MacLennan said she would not be in favour of simply amending the zoning bylaw without doing further research.

"But I would be in favour of recommending staff prepare a report," she said, moving that staff go ahead with the policy review.

Kelly Bacher said she is pleased the municipality is taking the step to study the issue.

"I was disappointed with the mayor, but Rose will definitely make sure the public knows what we are doing," she said. "Our hens are well housed and we're on an acre lot. I don't think they are any different from any other household pet."