February 22, 2013 4:12 pm
Updated: March 23, 2013 5:47 pm

Pilot project allows urban chickens in Red Deer

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EDMONTON- They’re not your average household animal, but some Red Deer residents are now taking on chickens as pets.

The City of Red Deer is defying the norm of many municipalities by allowing city residents to have backyard chicken coops.

“It’s been an absolute hoot to have them in the backyard,” said Red Deer resident Todd Lawrence, who has four chickens in his coop.

While some city residents may wonder why anyone would want to have chickens if their backyard, for Lawrence, it’s more of a question of why not?

“I think there’s a certain simple elegance in being able to turn my kitchen scraps into eggs, for starters. I think that’s super cool and in turn, of course, the chickens provide me with a certain substance that’ll go really good in my garden,” said Lawrence, who is a member of Cluck Red Deer, a club that supports the notion of keeping chickens in urban areas. “That whole circle of being able to turn what I can’t eat into something they’ll eat, and in turn they’re providing you with something to eat. I think that’s fascinating.”

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For other Cluck members, having chickens is a great opportunity to be able to produce and eat their own food.

“(It’s about) wanting to eat local food, wanting to eat clean, wanting to eat organic, and wanting the DIY- do it yourself- and chickens enable us to do that,” said Charity Briere.

Backyard chicken coops are part of a new pilot project city council approved earlier this week. A more informal project allowing backyard coops has been underway for about a year in Red Deer however, council has extended it to a formal one-year pilot project.

“Because the bylaw was silent on it, the city council decided to try the pilot project to see if chickens were really an issue or if they were a non-issue,” explained Joyce Boon, a permits and licensing supervisor with the City of Red Deer.

There are rules, however. Each household is only allowed to have a maximum of six chickens, and roosters are not allowed. Additionally, all hens must be registered with the city.

“They can come forward, and there’s no cost (to) register their chickens,” Boon said. “We’ll keep in contact with them over the year and take a report back to council next January.”

“What we’ll look for over the year is if we have any complaints from people who live beside chicken owners or find out if there’s any kind of noises or smells that come from the operation,” she added.

The city will also be looking into issues such as coop size and the distance coops should be located from neighbours.

Briere has had four hens since last fall and says she hasn’t heard any complaints from her neighbours. Briere understands that people are concerned over the possibility of noise or smell but, she says it all comes down to responsible pet ownership.

“I could have three huge dogs that are pooping everywhere and barking at every person that walks by and that wouldn’t be very kind of me as a neighbour to do that, but it’s technically allowed.”

“We can all think of irresponsible dog owners. The argument that (chickens) are smelly and loud is moot in my book,” added Lawrence. “If people are responsible pet owners then why can’t they responsibly keep chickens?”

The city doesn’t foresee many issues and expects the outcome of the pilot project to be successful.

“Everything will probably just stay status quo. We won’t see chickens running around the city,” Boon laughed.

It should be noted these animals are purely for egg production, urban chicken owners do not intend to eat their fowl.

“They’re pets, we’ve named them,” said Lawrence.

“You wouldn’t eat your cat,” Briere added with a laugh.

With files from Vinesh Pratap.

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