Backyard chickens may come home to roost in London

Backyard Chickens
The bird flu has been detected in a "backyard" flock in Selwyn Township, north of Peterborough. Global News

Eggscellent idea or big yoke?

Seven years after former city councillor Stephen Orser first raised the issue of backyard chickens in London, the city may be ready to allow people to have laying hens in their backyard.

A report going before London’s planning and environment committee on Monday recommends city politicians approve the Urban Agriculture Strategy, which includes a backyard chickens pilot project.

The strategy would also include urban farms, support for farmers’ markets, community kitchens, community composting and school gardens.

Since London first debated allowing backyard chickens, a handful of municipalities in Ontario have gone ahead with the initiative.

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The city of Toronto approved a pilot project of its own last month while Brampton, Niagara Falls, Kingston and Caledon all allow residents to keep chickens in backyard coops.

Part of the strategy calls for the city to research bylaws allowing backyard hens in other Canadian cities and to ensure that animal health, security and welfare are taken care of.

While staff are advising the city move ahead with the strategy, the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is against a pilot project for backyard chickens. The committee is concerned about the risk to chickens in extreme weather conditions, safe handling and housing of chickens, disposal of unwanted hens, the risk of predators to hens and public health.

The issue was first raised in London in 2010 when Orser, who lost to Coun. Jesse Helmer in 2014, asked the city to make an exception for a paralyzed woman to have chickens in her backyard. The debate soon grew to allow all Londoners to have a backyard coop.

Despite multiple attempts, Orser failed to gain any traction on the issue. The prospect of backyard chickens didn’t resonate with Londoners and was seen as a secondary issue as the city continued its recovery from the financial crisis of 2008.

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The urban agriculture strategy is part of The London Plan to provide policy guidance on food systems.

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