Residents sound off on hens
Okotoks: Council hears pros, cons of potential project
Wednesday, Jan 28, 2015 01:08 pm
Okotoks residents had something to squawk about on Jan. 19 when a public hearing was held to discuss a potential backyard hen pilot project coming to town.
A number of concerned citizens filled council chambers to share their thoughts and feelings on the proposal, which would allow up to 20 participants to keep up to six chickens in a backyard coop.
Robin Curtis came to speak in support of the proposal, as he said his sister is participating in a similar project in Red Deer and sees multiple benefits to having backyard hens.
“She moves their pen around and they keep the grass clipped and fertilized… they’re not flighty, they’re not noisy… you can’t even tell they’re there, they practically take care of themselves,” he said. “And I will never go back to caged eggs.”
Many residents spoke of the health and environmental benefits to eating eggs from backyard hens as well as utilizing their waste for fertilizing purposes.
“They produce usable waste in comparison to dog waste which just goes to the landfill,” said Jenni Bailey, who was one of the original members of the club who brought the proposal to town council.
Many residents also turned out to oppose the project, with a range of concerns about having chickens as neighbours inside town boundaries.
One resident said the town has already seen an increase in predators thanks to the deer who call Okotoks home, and was concerned about more being drawn in to potentially feast on chickens.
One of council’s biggest concerns was what would happen to the chickens once they stopped laying eggs. A typical hen only lays for three or four years, but can have a life span of up to 10 years. Bailey was quick to assure council that there are a number of solutions for hen owners in that situation.
“When it comes time there is a choice to make, there is a vet in town who will provide both health care and disposal of hens through euthanasia,” she said. “There is also butcher in Black Diamond, or she will just become a pet. If you can have six hens, you can have four that are laying and two that are not laying with no issues and just keep her as a pet.”
For many residents, a bigger concern was potentially living next door to a smelly hen house – something supporter Kathryn Leighton assured would not be a problem.
“On our farm that I work on… she probably has 30 chickens and no smell at all. So it's about educating the chicken owners about how to properly set up their coops so that it composts in a way that doesn’t smell,” Leighton said. “Her chicken coop actually smells better than a lot of houses that I’ve been in where they own a dog. I would sleep in her chicken coop and have no problem.”
Leighton’s five-year-old daughter Evey explained to council that she was looking forward to hopefully having chickens in her backyard, and promised to be “a good chicken mommy.”
“She's allergic to dogs and horses and things with hair, but she absolutely loves animals so chickens is an opportunity for her to have that interaction with an animal that's not scary and very loving,” Leighton said. “We also love the nutrition from the eggs. Collecting eggs is something that kids absolutely love, it's so exciting for them.”
Municipal Enforcement manager Tim Stobbs said there are a number of things that still need to be examined such as regulating coop size, potential setbacks, and necessary amendments to the land use bylaw, before council will be able to make its decision.
“We just have to make sure our chickens are all in a row,” Stobbs said jokingly.
A report will come back to council at its second meeting in March. Until then, residents who didn’t attend the hearing are welcome to submit their letters of support or concern to the Town until March 17.