Locavores want Chilliwack bylaw banning urban backyard chickens changed

Growing interest in urban backyard chickens has a growing number of Chilliwack residents calling for a change to the bylaw that bans them. - Submitted
Growing interest in urban backyard chickens has a growing number of Chilliwack residents calling for a change to the bylaw that bans them.
— image credit: Submitted

Persistent pecking at a City of Chilliwack bylaw banning urban backyard chickens has gotten some attention at city hall recently, but the dual threats of disease and neighbour complaints make changes to the bylaw a tough sell with municipal officials.

Last month, local resident Nicholette Devenney made a presentation to the city's agricultural committee advocating for the backyard fowl, and the committee has directed staff to look into the matter.

A report with possible recommendations should be ready for council within a few months, according to one staffer.

But Devenney is no lone voice in the wilderness.

Chilliwack's social media pages, including the Life in the 'Wack Facebook page, have seen numerous debates on the issue (often with Mayor Sharon Gaetz weighing in), and there is now also an online petition urging Chilliwack city council to allow backyard chickens in the city.

It was started by health-conscious, Sardis homeschooling mom, Gina Carew, whose family moved to Chilliwack from Surrey five years ago.

“We want to teach our children how to be self-sustaining and how to be able to fend for themselves and that their chicken doesn't come from the grocery store shelf,” Carew told the Times. “We really really want them to know where things come from and how things are done and how things are supposed to be done.”

Carew and her family already grow as much of their own organic produce as they can in their Sardis yard, and having a handful of chickens that would eat kitchen scraps and produce organic eggs and meat seems like the next logical step.

She almost gave up on the idea, though, after talking to the city's bylaw department.

“I felt like I was beating my head against the wall,” she said.

Getting in touch with likeminded people through the Crunchy Living BC Facebook page, however, has revived her determination.

The Chilliwack-based group is “dedicated to a natural way of was of living,” according to a statement on the page, and has attracted 553 members in just over two months.

“It's grown like crazy, and it seems like there's just more and more of us thinking the same way and wanting the same things.”

Sasha Selby, who started the page with Daniella Ingram, would also like to see backyard chickens allowed in Chilliwack.

“Times are really changing and people are getting more concerned about what's in their food and where it comes from and how the animals are treated,” Selby told the Times. “The condition that they're kept in is another big thing. Yes, there are a lot of farms out here in Chilliwack, but a lot of them are mass-produced chicken farms where they're just shoved in this giant barn with a ton of other chickens. There's no space. I want chickens that are running around and living a happy life.”

Selby said growing her own food is also the only way a young, single-income family can afford to eat organically since organic food tends to be pricey.

Last summer she said she didn’t have to buy any fruits or vegetables after growing them all herself with $40 worth of seed. Now, she’d like to add eggs and meat to that.

“I rather not pay the middle man,” she said. “I'd rather grown it myself or have chickens myself and then it's very affordable.”

Despite the growing support for residential poultry keeping in Chilliwack, however, it won’t be public opinion alone that will convince city council to change its bylaw, according to Gaetz.

“Political will is one thing, but whenever council has to make a decision, we have to weigh what our staff tell us, we have to weigh what the public have to say to us and we have to weigh all of the knowledge we have ourselves,” Gaetz told the Times.

One major argument against backyard chickens, she said, is the memory of the massive 2004 avian flu outbreak that led to the culling of 17.1 million chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks in the Fraser Valley.

“All of the barns and farm vehicles had to go through disinfection,” Gaetz wrote in a Facebook post last summer. “It was very difficult to find all of the farms and would have been almost impossible to find all backyard chickens had they been allowed. The disease would have spread.”

The city has also banned urban backyard chickens because of potential noise and odour complaints and because the city wants to support local farmers, Gaetz said in the post.

On a different Facebook thread, the mayor also posted a July 2013 National Post article about urban hipsters abandoning their backyard chickens because they’re too much work.

With all of the mayor’s arguments against the chickens, however, advocates say they don’t understand why other, bigger cities allow them and not Chilliwack.

“Vancouver can have chickens, for crying out loud. Why can't we?” Carew said. “We're in Chilliwack.”

Vancouver enacted a backyard chicken bylaw in June 2010.

About 100 homes are currently registered in that city to keep between one and four hens, and Vancouver city hall gets about 20 chicken-related complaints a year.

“I see more good than bad in it,” Selby said.

Gaetz said she recognizes there’s a lot of interest in backyard chickens, and a change to the bylaw is not out of the question, but it would take some convincing.

“There will be some who will very much want to have a backyard chicken coop,” Gaetz said. “I'm not presupposing that that couldn't happen in our community, but all of our experiences to this date have indicated to us it would be very difficult to monitor.”


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