City staff release guidelines for backyard chicken coops in Vancouver
It's likely taken up hundreds of hours of staff time and consultation, but the report following up on Vision's backyard chicken plan has finally made it to council. Dubbed as one of Vision's major accomplishments so far this term, the new back yard chicken policy will allow Vancouverites to begin housing chickens in their back yards.
The 32 page backyard chicken report can be found on the City's website and it covers a wide range of topics including everything from the Avian Flu to noise problems. It also provides detailed schematics on how each of the chicken coops should be constructed. Thankfully staff are recommending that urban chicken farmers "must follow bio-security procedures recommended by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency."
According to city staff "enthusiasm for urban chickens has grown throughout North America in the past few years." Despite this enthusiasm, there are clearly many hurdles that prospective chicken owners in Vancouver will have to face. For example, the dumping of manure or dead carcasses is strictly prohibited. Staff are also recommending that manure is carefully picked up and flushed down your toilet. As for dead chickens, they should be brought to a local crematorium or buried in a pet cemetery.
When it comes to chickens in the city, Council will establish what they are calling the "Five Freedoms" which include:
- freedom of discomfort
- freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
- freedom from pain, injury and disease
- freedom from fear and distress
- freedom to express normal behaviour
When I read these guidelines, I couldn't help but think that these basic principles should also be applied to our human population as well. If you're concerned about the possibility of contracting a disease from the back yard chickens, fear not:
Health authorities in Canada consider the risk of H5N1 reaching North America, or other HPAI subtypes spreading among backyard hens, to be extremely limited, particularly if biosecurity measures, such as those recommended by the CFIA, are followed.
Staff go on to state:
A third recommendation that will reduce risks in the unlikely event of an outbreak, or in the event that HPAI is found among North American wild bird populations, is the requirement for all hen keepers to enroll in an on-line registry, and to update their registration in a timely manner. The registry database will allow health officials to pinpoint the locations of backyard hens should a health emergency arise.
As for whether chickens in your neighbour's back yard could be a nuisance, staff indicate they will be limiting the number of hens on site:
The keeping of backyard hens raises potential nuisance issues, including increased noise, unpleasant odors, and attraction of unwanted animals, such as rodents and raccoons. In order to minimize nuisance issues in general, staff recommends that a maximum of four hens be allowed per lot.
The banning of roosters will help to cut down on the overall noise complaints, however, laying hens also create some concerns for staff:
Laying hens produce a variety of vocalizations, none of which are very loud. Perhaps the loudest noise is an approximately five-minute period of cackling or squawking that occurs when a hen lays an egg.
It should be noted that all that squawking is apparently no louder than a conversation between two human beings. As for all that smell related to urban farming:
Unpleasant odors, from accumulation of manure and/or food scraps, can result if chicken enclosures are infrequently cleaned and food is broadcast in the pens. Although chickens produce only a few tablespoons of manure per day, accumulations of manure can produce ammonia, which is both harmful for chickens and unpleasant for others.
Few things known to mankind smell worse than chicken feces
In response to those odour problems in the height of summer, staff has set some strict guidelines. They state 'it is recommended to remove manure and scraps at least weekly, and preferably daily. Manure can be flushed down the toilet, or composted, but is not allowed in garbage cans in Vancouver. Composted chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer."
Somehow I suspect the previous guideline might be a tad difficult for by-law officers to regulate. The report also covers the issue of how the hens may attract some unwelcome visitors:
Hen enclosures can also attract unwanted animals, including rodents seeking food scraps, and larger animals, such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, and coyotes, seeking eggs or a chicken dinner.
As for the financial implications of Vision's new back yard chicken initiative, it will apparently cost taxpayers around $25,000 to implement. Staff have cleverly indicated they don't anticipate the need to hire any staff as a result of this new policy. However, they do state:
If complaint volumes are larger than anticipated, staff may request additional enforcement staffing resources.
After months of work and consultation, it would appear that Vision's plans for "systemic social change" will be arriving in a back yard near you.