In urban centres, more and more chickens coming home to roost

In urban centres, more and more chickens coming home to roost - image

Each morning, Marci Babineau steps out the backdoor of her Montreal townhouse to fetch a half-dozen eggs from the chicken coop in her yard.

"It still amazes me everyday," says Babineau, a yoga teacher who had chickens growing up in suburban California. "I always thank them, because I feel like saying, ‘I’m glad it’s you, not me (laying eggs)."’

Chickens are permitted in Babineau’s area, in an upscale municipality on Montreal island. Backyard chickens remain an underground movement in most North American cities amid concerns about smell, sanitation and noise.

But that’s gradually changing as many urban dwellers seek a closer connection with the food they eat.

A growing number of Canadian cities now allow chickens within their boundaries, while others are considering the possibility.

Vancouver and Niagara Falls now allow chickens within city limits, along with cities south of the border such as Chicago and Seattle.

A recent trial run in New Brunswick was deemed a success, while a group in Toronto is also pressing the issue.

Most city dwellers who raise chickens, like Babineau, do so for their eggs – not for slaughter. Some are motivated by concern about the antibiotics, chemicals and chicken feed used in industrial farming.

Babineau says the eggs from her chickens tend to include a darker, richer yolk than the ones in the grocery store.

The city of Montreal outlawed chickens in 1966, part of the era’s trend against livestock within municipal boundaries.

While the law is still on the books, advocates are hoping a pilot project launched this summer in one borough could be the beginning of its undoing within the municipality.

"We had a lot of demand from residents, especially because it’s now allowed in other cities," says Francois Croteau, mayor of the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie borough.

The project announced last month means the borough will operate a hen house open to the public.

The original proposal was to permit residents to keep a few hens in their backyard if they had a large enough plot, but not everyone was in favour of the plan.

There were concerns backyard chickens would make too much noise and attract pests, such as rats.

"After one year (of considering) the regulations we found the first step would be a project that would focus on education and environment," Croteau said of the project.

Supporters like Babineau say that, without a rooster, neighbours wouldn’t even know the chickens are there and a properly maintained coop eliminates concern about smell and cleanliness.

Babineau’s hens are kept in a closed-in run at the back of the garden, which connects to a winter-warm area beneath the house where they eat, roost and lay eggs.

They subsist mostly on vegetable scraps from her own home and those of nearby friends and businesses.

"I had got really interested in the local food movement so I thought, ‘Oh I know, I can have chickens,"’ says Babineau.

Babineau has taken it upon herself to gradually spread the word about the benefits of being in closer touch with your food.

"The whole neighbourhood drops by to see the chickens, especially the families with little kids," says Babineau, who adds that her own son is enthusiastic about the project.

"I’m just trying to encourage them to come back to living with more nature and revisit some of the things we gave up a long time ago."


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