Residents in some parts of Toronto are now allowed to keep chickens in their backyards as a part of a three-year, city-run pilot project.
People who live in houses or townhouses with backyards in Ward 5 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park), Ward 21 (St. Paul’s) and Ward 32 (Beaches-East York) can have coops with up to four hens (roosters are not allowed under the program). The pilot project launched on Friday and will last until March 2021.
Ward 21 Coun. Joe Mihevc said he is happy the project is proceeding and that it works toward regulating a practice many engage in already.
“It’s exciting and an important development for the city, especially in the area of urban agriculture,” he told Global News, adding Toronto joins many other major cities to allow chickens.
“The movement includes community orchards, community gardens, backyard gardens, farmers markets, a 100-mile diet, buying organic, and now backyard hens are now a part of that.”
Chickens are currently permitted in residential backyards in several other cities, including Vancouver, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles.
Mihevc said there’s a growing desire for people to have the ability to source eggs at home and have hens as pets. In fact, Mihevc said he’s going to build a coop in his backyard later this year and work with an area daycare and a school to showcase the hens.
“I have a feeling my 94-year-old mom and 94-year-old dad, both of whom grew up in a rural context, I think they’re going to come over and they’re going to love it,” he said.
“So it’s going to give some real joy to a whole bunch of folks, both at the young end and the older end.”
The “UrbanHensTO” initiative was approved by Toronto city council in October.
Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare Toronto, was one of several groups that praised the pilot project in letters to council in October. He said it will have “significant benefits,” but noted there are concerns too.
“Urban hen keeping can promote increased access to local food and can serve to increase public awareness of the benefits of local food production. The practice itself can reduce household food waste through recycling of food scraps and provides a ready supply of nutritious food through fresh eggs,” Taylor said.
“In addition to these benefits there are associated risks with permitting backyard hens, however evidence has shown that all of these risks can be safely mitigated by sound legislation, policies and good hygiene practices.”
City of Toronto municipal licensing and standards staff tabled a report to council in May on the municipal bylaw dealing with prohibited animals. In that report, they said they were against removing provisions on chickens.
“In reviewing the restriction on chickens, three major criteria remain problematic: ensuring public health and safety, ensuring keeping of hens will not cause public nuisance problems, and animal care and welfare needs can be reasonably met,” the report said, comments echoed by some groups as well.
Meanwhile, Mihevc said around “95 per cent” of the constituents he spoke with on the issue have expressed support.
For neighbours who have complaints about noise, the coops or the keeping of the hens, Mihevc said animal control staff will respond to those concerns similar to how they would about other regulated, domestic animals.
Staff will be reporting back to council after feedback is collected.
The City of Toronto will be holding two workshops in March and two workshops in April for those who are interested in the program.
In order to participate in the program, residents need to register with the City of Toronto and abide by several enclosure, location and operational requirements.