As Sidney considers the pros and cons of allowing backyard chickens, the public debate is well underway.
Jordan Reichert, an animal activist with the Animal Alliance of Canada based in Saanich, last month submitted a lengthy letter arguing against allowing backyard chickens.
“Due to the nature of keeping backyard chickens, their presence creates access to open feed, water, fecal matter, eggs and the birds themselves,” he said. “These tend to attract rats and other unwanted animals to urban areas that can carry disease, lead to conflict with people and domestic animals, and affect neighbours. Also, people can directly be infected with salmonella from poor handling techniques of backyard flocks.”
He also raised what he called biosecurity concerns, adding that Avian flu represents a “very real and present threat in Canada and British Columbia.
“In 2004, 17 million birds were killed in B.C. due to an outbreak and there is currently an outbreak at BC farms. In response to this, backyard farmers in B.C. and other provinces are being told to keep their flocks inside for biosecurity measures, as well as practice sanitization protocols for handling. Unless the municipality is willing to put the resources into monitoring and enforcement of these protocols, then they should not be approving the keeping of backyard chickens.”
He also expressed concerns that most municipal bylaw enforcement staff have not undergone training in handling of farm animals and lamented the lack of regulations that prevent the inhumane care and treatment of these animals.
“It is not a matter of if keeping flocks in urban settings will create conflict, animal welfare issues, or raise biosecurity concerns, but a matter of when and how often,” he said. “The same legitimate reasons that pushed the farming of animals out of the city in the first place still stand today.”
Cherie MacLure, a longtime local proponent of backyard chickens, anticipated some of these arguments in her letter.
All municipalities that allow backyard chickens have put guidelines in place that require residents to raise what she called “healthy birds,” she said.
Addressing specific concerns about rodents, MacLure said rodents are a reality across the Saanich Peninsula regardless of whether residents have backyard chickens.
“Do chickens attract problems? Not if well-cared for,” she said. “The bylaw update needs to follow suit with other municipalities and allow residents the opportunity for sustainable food systems.”
Backyard chickens also benefit residents in several ways, she added.
“Hens are a part of the drive for local sustainable food systems,” she said. “When done properly, they have benefits that include more than just healthy egg production. These animals are great at keeping garden pests at bay. Chickens hunt and eat pests including but not limited to earwigs, grubs, slugs and beetles (thereby making) it easier for our residence to grow healthy crops.”
Chickens also produce what she called “top-grade” fertilizers.
“This creates a healthy lawn with no chemicals or pesticides,” she said.
Backyard chickens can be also educational, she added.
“It’s important for our children (and community) to learn food is more than some thing on the shelf at the grocery store,” she said.
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