Edmonton to expand urban hens pilot project to 50 sites

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WATCH ABOVE: Expect a bit more rural in the heart of the city in the months ahead. The pilot program which allows for urban hens is expanding, despite some issues. Vinesh Pratap has more. – Mar 7, 2016

EDMONTON — There’s good news for Edmontonians who support the idea of keeping chickens in their backyards. The City of Edmonton is expanding its urban hens pilot project to 50 sites within the city. However, not everyone is pleased with the decision.

The pilot program started in late 2014 with 19 sites. Despite about a dozen complaints surrounding nuisance birds and foul odour city councillor Michael Walters said overall, the project went “relatively well.”

“There was a couple stumbles but we learned from that and I think there’s a demand out there,” he said Monday. “There’s more people that were interested in hen keeping.”

READ MORE: Hens could soon be coming to an Edmonton backyard near you

The pilot project will continue for the next two years. Immediate neighbours of new urban hen keepers will be notified, however, they won’t be able to appeal the decision. Hen owners will also have to go through training on how to properly care for the animals before being issued a licence.

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“It’s not a simple, provide food, water and take it for a walk. It’s much more complex than that,” Margaret Fisher, with River City Chickens Collective, said.

“I think there’s a number of checks in place that will enable the system to weed out the whimsical, ‘Oh, this looks like fun. I think I’ll just pick up a chicken on my way home from work.'”

However, not everyone is convinced. Karin Nelson has several concerns, mainly around the welfare of the animals.

“I am very concerned mostly about what is going to happen to those hens when they stop laying eggs. Right now, there is no mechanism in place to ensure that those hens are not slaughtered, not just let go,” she said. “There isn’t a long-term assurance that those hens are going to be well looked after.”

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“The city should certainly be encouraging urban farming in terms of growing plants, growing gardens … I’m just not convinced that keeping livestock in the city is a very good idea.”

Walters said the expanded pilot project will be evaluated after one year to make sure things continue to run smoothly.

“The important thing is that the people who are becoming urban hen keepers are properly trained, have proper licences, the city has proper enforcement resources to make sure that the things that people are worried about are not actually happening.”

Depending on the breed, hens can lay eggs up until they’re about six or seven years old, Fisher said, although most commercial birds peak at one or two years old.

The lifespan of a chicken is about seven to 10 years, Fisher added.

For more information on the urban hens pilot project, visit the City of Edmonton’s website.

Editor’s note: This story, originally published March 14, 2016, was amended March 16 to clarify Karin Nelson’s position. 

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