City council appears to be eager to allow backyard chickens in Nelson, judging from its positive response to a presentation at its March 25 meeting.
Nelson resident Anne Simonen, who presented the case for backyard hens, reminded council that it looked at the idea in 2009 and again in 2011 before dropping it.
“In 2009 Nelson would have been one of the few municipalities in Canada to allow backyard hens. Now there are hundreds of cities, from New Denver to Smithers, Vancouver to Toronto, who allow them,” she said.
Currently Nelson’s Animal Control Bylaw allows no animals other than dogs and cats to be kept in the city.
Hen myth and reality
Simonen debunked four common myths about backyard chickens.
They are noisy: Simonen said the sound of a laying hen is about 67 dB for five minutes, and only during the day. The sound of a barking dog is 100 dB any time day or night. Most bylaws do not allow roosters, which tend to be louder.
They attract predators: Simonen said a well-designed coop will prevent predators. She cited an RDCK report stating that fruit trees and garbage attract bears more than chickens. It is their feed that attracts predators, so feed should be stored away from the coop.
They are smelly: Only if you don’t clean the coop properly.
They spread disease: Property line setbacks and hen population limits mitigate this.
A proposed bylaw
Simonen said success depends on a well-drafted bylaw. She suggested that a backyard hen bylaw would contain these provisions:
• A five-meter setback from neighbours’ doors or windows, and one metre from the front property line,
• Maximum four hens, minimum four months old at adoption, no roosters,
• Minimum coop and run space for hens, up to nine square meters and three metres tall,
• Coop closed on all sides with sides buried to prevent burrowing vermin,
• Feed kept secured from rodents outside hen enclosure,
• No slaughtering,
• No sales of eggs or manure or other products,
• Registration fee required.
“A hen at her peak lays six eggs over seven days, so four hens for a family of four is well on their way to feeding their family. It is more cost effective than buying organic eggs at the grocery store,” she said.
“Hens are excellent composters: they eat anything, they scratch everything up.”
Councillor Jesse Woodward said Simenon’s proposal resonates with his previous job as markets manager for the West Kootenay EcoSociety, where the emphasis was on local food production.
“Ninety-five per cent of the food we get here is brought in by trucks,” he said, “and we have about three days of food in the stores. So if there was a natural disaster and the roads were impassable we would have nothing.”
He said backyard hens would obviously not solve this problem, but he said it is a step toward an environment of home-produced food.
“I love the idea,” Councillor Brittny Anderson said. “We can always pass it, and then if it becomes henmageddon we can take it back.”
Simonen said that in her research she has not found a municipality that has cancelled a hen ownership bylaw after instituting it.
Her presentation was made to the monthly Committee of the Whole meeting, at which council hears presentations but does not make decisions. Council asked management staff to bring a proposed bylaw back to a regular monthly business meeting and city manager Kevin Cormack said the issue will be included in council’s upcoming strategic priorities sessions in April.