Monday, July 16, 2018
Opinion Editorial In a Flap About Chickens

backyard-chickensThere are many chickens in the backyards of Cumberland, and have been for many years.  Whilst not strictly legal, a blind eye has been turned whilst towns and cities all over the world have caught up to what Cumberland has known for so long - backyard chickens have many benefits and few issues. 

But the blind eye is being opened, and enforcement of Cumberland's animal bylaw is now beginning to happen. If you are one of Cumberland's quiet chicken keepers, you need to come speak at the Village Hall meeting on May 6th, otherwise there is the ever increasing chance that death may come a-knocking for those chickens. 

Council has a petition with over 400 signatures supporting chickens on village lots.  However, the other side of the argument is embodied in a staff report that firmly recommends against chickens.  This website feels strongly that chickens are a welcome addition to backyards and that the Village's report needs to be looked at carefully and challenged on the basis of the available evidence. 

The Village report can be read here and concludes: 

"Though there are a few notable benefits to allowing backyard chickens, the risk of conflict from dangerous animals, health issues, enforcement issues and nuisance complaints seem to outweigh these advantages. Cities that allow for chickens do not allow them on smaller lots."

There are now many examples of cities worldwide that allow chickens.  A survey of these is useful for understanding how they have dealt with the issues raised, but what really needs to be considered is an example of a small village with nearby predator habitat, as arguments about bears and cougars are less relevant in large downtowns.  The best example is probably Rossland, BC, a city in the Kootenay Region with about 3,500 residents, which allowed chickens in 2011 and now has an active backyard chicken community sharing knowledge and understanding (and doubtless sharing eggs too).  Our nearby neighbour Gibsons, BC, allows chickens and has no bylaws relating to them. It is a non-issue. Nanaimo has allowed them since 2010.

In this article, I'm going to reference key factual items I've found in a few minutes look around the web.  

Let's look at the Village report in some more detail.

Smaller Lots:

"Cities that allow for chickens do not allow them on smaller lots."

Vancouver and Victoria do not have lot size restrictions. Nor does Rossland or many other municipalities.  It is not clear which cities this statement refers to.

Health Issues

The report raises the spectre of Avian Flu, a known problem in Aisa when birds are kept in very close quarters and unhygienic conditions. However, the The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) conducted a literature review on the risk of infectious disease from backyard hens and found that:

"Overall, the risk of pathogen transmission associated with backyard chicken keeping appears to be mild and does not present a greater threat to population health compared to other animals allowed by similar bylaws (reptiles, dogs, etc). Public adherence to proper hygiene will significantly mitigate the risk of any disease acquisition including pathogens commonly found in chickens. "

Other literature supports this view and it can be safely said that health risks are negligible. 

Enforcement Issues and Complaints

With the current bylaw in place, there have been 'several complaints' about chickens.  The survey of complaint levels across municipalities who have allowed chickens shows a range of between 0 and 14 per 100,000 residents. In Cumberland, that would translate to 0-1 complaints per year. This supports the view that by allowing chickens, complaints and enforcement activity would decrease - not increase, as neighbours find ways to resolve issues without just saying 'it's against the law', and neighbours with other grievances have one less option for making malicious or spiteful complaint. 

There is no evidence that enforcement workload goes up with backyard chickens - on the contrary, the evidence suggests it may reduce.

Financial Implications

The report refers to the effort and expense to rewrite bylaws, as chickens are referred to in the zoning, animal control, municipal ticketing and Public Nuisance bylaw.  The last two are minor alterations easily handled through regular process with minimal effort.  The animal control bylaw would need revisions to include the correct provisions, but these are already defined in the Village report and can readily be developed in reference to similar municipalities. 

The zoning bylaw requires a public process to change, including a public hearing. This is the most significant cost in terms of staff time and expense.  Fortunately, the zoning bylaw will be changed as part of the OCP review, so staff have the opportunity to include a backyard chicken provision at that time with no additional expense. 

Bylaw changes can be achieved without appreciable expense or workload.

Other financial implications involve increased time for enforcement, which has already been addressed above, and costs for shelter and impoundment facilities.  No evidence is presented on how many chickens are impounded in Rossland, Nanaimo, Victoria or Vancouver (a quick phone call should find that out) but we would suggest that special facilities will not be needed in Cumberland. 

Compost and Fertilizer

The Village report notes the amount of feces produced by chickens (1/4 lb per day) and the high nitrogen content because chickens eat organic materials, resulting in release of ammonia. We are not sure which animals eat inorganic food, and the average dog produces 3/4 lb per day.  As usual, the problem is not the poop, but what you do with it. Let it pile up in a filthy hen house and yes, the smell could get pretty bad. However, those who want chickens will likely also want to use manure as a fertilizer, and can be expected to treat it properly for that purpose.

Chicken feces is unlikely to ever become the problem that dog feces already is.

BC SPCA Position on Chickens

The BC SPCA continues to maintain a position against backyard chickens, recommending purchase of eggs from BC SPCA certified farmers. The Humane Society, however, has recently reversed it's position in the light of experience with Vancouver urban chickens, where no complaints have been received in two years. It would be helpful to understand the Vancouver and Victoria SPCA experience, as backyard chickens offer a route for the SPCA to supply chickens for adoption and could end up as a net reduction in chickens held or killed by SPCA shelters. 

Conflict with Wildlife

This is the major issue in a rural community like Cumberland. There is, without doubt, a need to carefully consider the risks of attracting additional bears and cougars into our community.  The conservation officer raises important points about chicken awareness but does not recommend for or against - he advises that chicken owners fully understand the risks.  These risks are well known and highlighted on every backyard chicken website; encouraging education and a 'chicken owners community' will help mitigate these problems. There are quite a lot of chickens in our community right now, but owners are naturally not keen to admit that and the current bylaw limits the formation of a community of owners who can share knowledge and skills.

Rossland, Gibsons and even Nanaimo are probably good examples here. We would like to hear from the experience of conservation officers in those municipalities. 

As a Bear Smart community, there are many resources at  advising on how best to avoid chickens becoming an attractant. It appears that careful storage of feed is important - which is just as true for garbage - and electric fences are the ultimate deterrent.  This village already has a huge range of attractants, it would be interesting to know from current chicken owners how many have had problems with bears. 

Cougars can predate chickens, and will certainly take a loose chicken if they get the opportunity. However, research suggests that cougars do not dig or break into well secured coops, so this becomes an issue of proper housing and remembering to secure chickens at night - a golden rule for anyone who keeps chickens.

Raccoons and mink are probably much more likely and effective predators than bears and cougars. They are more prevalent in our community and more able to get through small gaps.  But this tends to be a 'self solving' problem, careless owners who lose chickens to predators will be unlikely to replace them, careful owners will take the proper action to secure their coops and flock. 

Wildlife conflicts can be better managed through education when chickens are legally held

In Summary

Chickens have been kept in small backyards the world over since time immemorial.  As we disconnected our food supply from our local community during the 1950's and 60's, chickens became unusual in backyards and eventually a sign of poverty or backwardness in gentrifying suburban neighbourhoods.  Regulation followed to limit all sorts of possible nuisances and bylaws proliferate; enforcement eventually follows. In many places, enforcement is very low for chickens, but Cumberland risks losing many harmless, even helpful, backyard birds just as other communities are recognising that they don't cause real problems and can be effectively managed with the minimum of municipal interference. 

I don't remember the last time I was disturbed by clucking chickens, scared by an aggressive chicken or stepped in chicken poop on the sidewalk. There are much more troublesome pets around than chickens.


+1 # Currently Cumberland 2013-04-28 07:02
Thank you Cumberland Matters for pulling this info together. Wonderful!

Now share it, share it, share it!!!!
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+4 # Caroline Leadbitter 2013-04-28 10:01
I would love to have a few chickens in my back yard. As far as attracting dangerous animals etc. don't the fruit trees and our garbage already do that, and dog food etc. attracts rats.
Really and truly,let's keep things in perspective!
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0 # Stef 2013-04-28 11:42
Everyone should have a couple chickens in their backyard period. They should also have a goat:)
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-2 # Mike Nestor 2013-05-02 11:37
This article makes its case for keeping chickens, but cherry picks its information and provides a one-sided analysis (the section on predator attraction stood out to me as seriously incomplete.) For those interested in getting a balanced view on keeping chickens, check out the following resources: (Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter Facebook page) as well as United Poultry Concerns ( From greenhouse gas emissions to the inherent cruelty around male chicks, the exploitation and abuse of livestock is a serious issue impacting all of us and our environment. Make sure to educate yourself on all pros and cons before deciding to jump on the latest "food security" fad. And make sure to ask hard questions on May 6th!
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+3 # vickey Brown 2013-05-02 17:16
Thank you for the research! Obviously there are concerns to be dealt with, but surely the food security benefits far outweigh any potential problems.
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+2 # hpm 2013-05-06 06:56
Thanks Nick. Great article. We raised lots of chickens in a rural area and our biggest issues were raccoons, mink, and our own dogs. Seems ridiculous that we in the Comox Valley can't keep a few birds in our back yards.
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0 # kim 2015-01-02 22:57
Thanks, Nick! Good read... I can't wait to see where the Great Chicken Debate of 2015 leads. :)
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-2 # jacqueline franke 2015-04-03 09:37
chickens belong on land where they can run and we don't have that on these small lots in cumberland.we live next door to ranging free chickens.the odour emitted is horrible and cannot describe the rank smell in the heat;they stink.our border from the neighbours has been compromised by their scratching therefore creating another problem for us at our expense.i have a problem with such ignorance re; animal husbandry.
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0 # Chrissy cole 2016-05-25 17:56
Hi have always wanted to own my own laying hens we are a family of seven and would love our own fresh eggs as we go through them like crazy! Obviously there should be specific rules about it put in effect and a limit :) so many people here have noisy dogs and not pick up their dog poops! Lol but not allowed a few laying hens seems kinda silly!
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Opinion - Editorial