May 22, 2008
Dear Calgary Alderman;
The City of Calgary has a clear intention to promote sustainability. This means making proactive decisions to help people improve their own lives, the lives of their children, and those of future generations.
A high quality of life means being able to eat well and to provide for oneself and one’s family. Access to organic, healthy food is becoming more and more difficult as food prices rise. As an urban community, we may not see any means of addressing this issue directly, but there are some things we can do. I would like to propose one in particular, which would be of virtually no financial or other cost to the City yet could potentially benefit many of its residents.
I suggest that the city make a minor change in one of its bylaws, namely the “Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw #23M2006”, which reads:
27. No person shall keep Livestock in any area of the City except where the keeping of Livestock is allowed under The City of Calgary Land Use Bylaw
(n) “Livestock” means:
(v) Animals of the avian species including chickens, turkeys,
ducks, geese, or pheasants, and
(vi) all other Animals that are kept for agricultural purposes,
but does not include cats, dogs, or other domesticated household
This bylaw is generally reasonable and of benefit to the community. My suggested change is with regard to the animals listed as livestock. I recommend adding a section to this bylaw that allows a small number of hens to be kept by families as pets. I suggest that this section contain a few points which prevent the keeping of hens to become a problem in the city.
A list of suggested points to include in the bylaw would be:
-That the number of hens be kept to a minimum number (such as 4 or 5) or relate the number of hens allowed to the size of lot.
-That coups and buildings for hens are restricted in size, are well maintained, are in conformity with the architecture of the house, are not adjacent to neighbouring fences, and are not visible from the road.
-That the slaughtering of hens in private yards is prohibited.
-That bird feed is kept in sealed plastic containers, and not accessible to wild birds or animals.
-That the bylaw allows hens and not roosters (which make noise)
-That there is accessible information to the public about care for hens, preventing disease, and the risks of keeping hens and other household animals.
As it is currently written, this bylaw prevents people from having a few hens in their yard. While it may have been the intention of Council when passing this bylaw to protect this city’s residence from the nuisance and hazards associated with keeping livestock within the city limits, with these additional points there is no reason to prevent people from keeping a few chickens for personal egg use.
With three hens in an urban backyard, a family could provide themselves with healthy, organic, grain fed, free run eggs to sustain themselves, throughout the year. These hens could eat some of the residents’ waste, provide some fertilizer for a vegetable garden, and provide education for children about their food and animals, while making little to no noise, or detriment to the urban landscape.
This is not a unique concept. There are many cities in the United States including New York, Portland, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, as well as Victoria BC that allow chickens.
There are four concerns which may be raised in opposition to this suggestion, namely noise, pests, nuisance and disease. I shall address each in turn.
With respect to noise, I have suggested that roosters remain prohibited under the bylaw. Hens do not make noise. Roosters make noise. Allowing hens and prohibiting roosters would not create any additional noise in residential neighbourhoods.
The risk of attracting pests is minimal. Chickens are birds which eat a vegetarian diet which, in an urban setting, would consist of store-bought grains as well as some table scraps. This would not attract more pests than would the average vegetable garden or bird-feeder, less so because the chickens and their food would be contained.
As for the concern about nuisance generally, the size of a coop can be quite small (smaller than the needs of a larger dog run) and the number of hens can be restricted by bylaw. Well kept chickens produce fewer odours than do many animals which can currently be kept as pets, and as they create no noise, the concern over creating nuisance is ungrounded.
Concern about the risk of disease is primarily with regard to avian flu. This risk is much lower where one is only dealing with a few hens than with large bird farms – where, if there is a single case of the flu, thousands of chickens have to be slaughtered. In this case, the disease can only affect a couple hens, and cannot have as great an impact. All animals, whether domestic or wild, carry with them a risk of disease. Dogs may contract rabies, cats ringworm and so on. Families who choose to keep hens contained in their yard take on that risk as do all families who choose to keep pets.
A benefit to allowing hens as pets is that families can give the animals personal attention, which is bound to be an improvement on the animal rights issues concerning hens living in cages in large scale egg factories.
As a woman from Chicago who keeps chickens says:
“Backyard hens are often a community asset. Children love to interact with chickens (watch them, feed them, etc), and older people often have fond memories of growing up with chickens. Excess eggs can be shared with neighbors, and these same neighbors may choose to bring by some of their “waste” (trimmings from kitchen greens, dandelions and weeds from the yard, etc.) rather than send them to the landfill. From my experience, this is how it works, at least. My hens are definitely an asset to the neighborhood, not a detriment!
Every one wants to have strong communities. Well-tended backyard hens help build a strong community!” (Linda, hen owner, Chicago)
One way for City Council to promote sustainability is to remove impediments which prevent individual Calgarians from practicing a more self – sustaining lifestyle. On the individual scale people need to be able to take ownership of their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Historically, we have removed food production from urban centers. Allowing people to provide some food for themselves can help reduce the negative effects of large scale food production, as growing cities make larger demands on agriculture. This can include the need for pesticides, mono-agriculture, fertilizers and mass animal farming that is not only at times cruel but detrimental to quality food production.
Overall, urban hens can be greatly rewarding, educational, healthy and beneficial to a Calgarian family, while having little to no negative impact on future generations or on neighbourhoods. Therefore, this would be a wonderful way for the city of Calgary to further its dedication to sustainability. I hope that you as an Alderman will consider promoting this concept in Council, and allowing the city’s residents to improve their quality of life and contribute to the vision of the City.
Thank you for allowing for this proposal. I look forward to hearing your support of this suggestion. In the mean time I will be contacting local like-minded organizations who may be willing to promote this concept, and starting a petition of people in support.