London, Ontario has the opportunity, in the next few days, to actually act like a world class city and take an active step in improving our sustainability and food security rather than playing catch-up years from now. We have the opportunity to improve our resilience by changing the unfounded bylaws that ban laying hens in our city.
Cities all across the United States currently permit chickens to be raised within the city limits. Here’s a short, and by no means inclusive list:
“World-Class” cities that permit urban chickens:
- Los Angeles
- Las Vegas
- New Orleans
- San Fransisco
- Salt Lake City
- New York City (which, like Chicago, permits unlimited chickens, provided cleanliness is maintained)
Canada is slower to adopt urban homesteading, and this is where London has an opportunity to show our leadership. Niagara Falls, ON; Richmond, BC; Guelph, ON; Esquimault, BC; and Victoria, BC have passed bylaws permitting urban chickens, while many cities (including Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax) are pushing for the same. Residents in Waterloo, ON who were raising chickens prior to their recent tied vote on the matter are permitted to keep their chickens.
Benefits of backyard chickens:
- healthy, pesticide-free eggs
- improve local food security
- chickens reduce municipal waste by consuming kitchen scraps–from carrot peels to pizza crusts
- chickens provide excellent nitrogen-rich compost for the garden, reducing dependence on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers
- reduction of greenhouse gases through decreased food transport
- chickens reduce back-yard pests–by eating them!
- Chickens are people-friendly, social animals that make great pets
- Small-scale backyard food-production contributes to vibrant urban communities by promoting sustainability
Now, urban chickens are an issue that makes many people react emotionally, to the exclusion of facts. Here’s some help with those:
Popular concerns about chickens
It’s understandable that people don’t want to have the stink of shit ruining their enjoyment of life. Shit stinks if it’s left lying around. The smell that most people associate with chickens comes from large (unsustainable) operations, where many chickens shit continually but are rarely mucked out.
* Bird Flu (etc)
Here’s a question: if a bird flu risk were a legitimate reason for preventing urban chickens, why is it legal to keep an unspecified number of backyard pigeons in London? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a neighbour with 4 laying hens than one with a flock of pigeons.
You know what spreads bird flu? A giant, unsanitary building crammed with hens standing in their own shit, rubbing up against their sick and wounded neighbours. That’s the reality of factory farms, not backyard chickens.
Urban farmers invest a lot of time and money into raising their chickens, and will notice if one gets sick. Because it’s so small scale, they are also very motivated to make sure their hens are in peak health, or they lose their investment.
Rats aren’t attracted to chickens. In fact they avoid chickens, which will attack any rat or mouse they see. What rats are attracted to is food. Just as rats will be attracted to garbage that is properly contained, they are attracted to open feed containers. No one wants to share their chicken feed with rodents and squirrels, so feed is stored in closed containers, perhaps even inside the house. The small portion of food that is left in chicken enclosures will attract no more rats than leaving out bird seed or a bowl of cat food for outdoor cats.
If you don’t believe me about chickens, believe the people who get paid a lot to know what they’re talking about.
on June 18, 2007 in support of an urban chicken bylaw in his state:
I believe that the public health risk posed by allowing small numbers of backyard chickens in South Portland is minimal and can be controlled by good husbandy. This means that their housing, feed and water, carcass disposal, and manure management are maintained using best (agricultural) management practices.
Avian influenza and other diseases may transmitted by contact with migratory waterfowl or shorebirds. This contact with backyard poultry can be minimized or eliminated by good management (adequate fencing, well-maintained feeders, closing birds in at night).
There are two areas of caution in keeping poultry in an urban environment to avoid issues which could result in nuisance complaints from neighbors. The most salient of these concerns is the possession of roosters which should be prohibited. The second is manure management. Flies and odor are a common cause of neighborhood complaints. Again, using best management practices to maintain the sanitation of the coop through frequent clean-outs as well as keeping it well-secured against predators by the use of adequate fencing is also essential. I think the inclusion of a provision in the ordinance for the neighbors to rescind approval of the backyard poultry as well as the ability for the local health officer to remove the birds at any time would also head off potential problems.
Sarnia solved the issue of water conservation. They raised water prices and imposed watering restrictions, and a miraculous thing happened.“The water is so bloody expensive, that’s why people are not using it,” Coun. Anne Marie Gillis.They cut their water down to 81,000 cubic metres/day from the 181,000 it’s licensed to sell.So, to celebrate, they are because the loss of revenue is putting them in the red.
Water is more valuable a resource than coal, oil, or gold.Three days without it and you die.Period.And as we start to watch folks around the world try to deal with their water shortages, it’s probably a good idea to look at our relationship to it. The average American uses of water per day (and I can’t imagine the Canadian numbers are much different—but if you know your food consumption in kilograms, you can calculate your water footprint).It’s not so surprising when you realize that it takes 200 litres to make 1kg of plastic, or that it requires 2-4 barrels of water to extract a barrel of oil from the tar sands.And then, of course, there’s food.