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Urban chickens rejected by Chilliwack city council

In rejecting the idea of allowing urban chickens in Chilliwack, Mayor Sharon Gaetz pointed out how common roadside egg sales are in the city. - Paul J. Henderson
In rejecting the idea of allowing urban chickens in Chilliwack, Mayor Sharon Gaetz pointed out how common roadside egg sales are in the city.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

For Chilliwack city council, backyard chickens are an idea that isn't all it's cracked up to be.

With Coun. Jason Lum opposd, council rejected the idea of allowing urban hens in residential areas at Tuesday's meeting.

The woman on the forefront of pushing for backyard chickens in the city is disappointed but not surprised.

Earlier this year, Nicholette Devenney was invited to give a presentation on urban hens to the Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) as city hall has received an increasing number of inquiries about the subject.

Devenney says the committee, chaired by chicken farmer Coun. Ken Huttema, was dead-set against it from the start.

"They were defensive, they didn't want to listen to it," Devenney told the Times of the February meeting. "I know for a fact Ken Huttema didn't want to hear anything about it. They basically laughed at me.

"They asked me to be there and then they ripped it apart."

At Tuesday's meeting, Couns. Ken Huttema, AAC vice-chair Sue Attrill and Mayor Sharon Gaetz spoke about the various concerns regarding backyard chickens, chief among which is the fear of avian flu.

Only Coun. Jason Lum expressed a desire to discuss the matter further, and consider ways to allow for the possibility of having chickens on residential properties. Lum asked if concerns over avian flu had manifested itself in communities where the practice is allowed, such as Vancouver and Victoria.

Gaetz pointed to the mass cull of all poultry in Chilliwack when avian flu hit the Fraser Valley in 2004, and said that if a chicken died in a backyard in Vancouver, there was little chance it would be tested to see if avian flu was the culprit.

"The difficult part for the city was going to each home that had chickens and informing them that they would have to take their chickens and be destroyed," she said. "Council is thinking ahead."

Huttema talked about concerns over the expense of monitoring and enforcement were chickens to be allowed in a limited form in residentially zoned areas.

Other concerns included: disposal of waste, disposal of unwanted chickens, general nuisance, hens at large, attracting vermin and/or predators and insufficient egg production.

Another point brought up in the staff report and by Gaetz was the relative availability of eggs already from nearby farmers.

"We really do want to support our egg farmers," she said. "You can go to the side of every road and buy a dozen organic, free range eggs for about $3, gathered for you, washed for you, ready to go warm from under the hen."

For Devenney, having backyard chickens represents one small measure in the fight against poverty given increasing prices for all proteins.

But more than that, she said she is also interested in having hens in her backyard to gain a sense of self-sufficiency and food security in the event of a natural disaster.

"Why are we not teaching our citizens to take care of ourselves?" she asks.

"As soon as you have a natural disaster, people are needing the government and I don't want to be one of those people."

Devenney did have six chickens in her Sardis backyard but the city forced her to get rid of them.

In response to Huttema's claim that enforcement would be an expense, Devenney pointed out the city was already spending money on bylaw enforcement to stop people from having backyard chickens.

Lum suggested a pilot project be introduced, but this was an idea also rejected by the AAC. The AAC also did not approve of a suggestion to create a community-garden type chicken farm, but Coun. Sue Attrill suggested that an entrepreneur on agriculture land could create a business of that type on their own.

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