Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What happens to roosters?

Have you ever wondered about that?

Those of us who would like to see urban chickens legalized in Windsor, are talking about hens only.  We don't want roosters.

This is what Gord Henderson had to say on the matter in last week's column in the Windsor Star:

Chickens are quiet as long as you ban roosters? And that last bit, by the way, could be the subject of a charter challenge, given the blatant sexism.

Well, Gord, I don't think the Chicken Farmers of Canada want to hear about a charter challenge.  They don't need too many roosters and they certainly don't want you thinking about them.  If you think this is blatant sexism in backyard operations, how does that make the poultry industry look?

You see, they kill them.

Most roosters today have little chance to act out, service a harem or crow. On modern commercial egg farms, which produce 98 percent of the eggs Americans consume, roosters are killed at birth. If a chick is male, it’s immediately dispatched.
Yes, baby roosters are disposed of.  Culled.  Killed.  Call it what you like, but they don't survive.  Since roosters don't grow up with big juicy breasts, they aren't needed for their meat, and it's more efficient to dispose of them soon after birth.  The odd one slips through and might end up as broiler meat, and of course a couple are needed for breeding.  But the vast majority of roosters do not survive infancy.

How do they do it?  Well in Canada, they are usually gassed.  The book Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs (available at Windsor Public Library) describes even less savoury (but highly efficient) dispatching practices like chucking the chicks into a chipper.  

No, this isn't a bizarre porn ad (though be warned if you decide to google the topic). It's a real job opening for the expert who can identify the male chicks.
And if you were wondering about the average ratio of hens to roosters, it is about 50:50.

How does that fit in with urban chickens?  Well here is my take.  The average life of a commercial egg laying hen is about 1 1/2 years.  After that, she gets slaughtered and ends up on somebody's plate.  Compare that to the normal lifespan of a chicken, which is 5 to 6 years.  Let's be conservative and say that's about 3 times longer.  That's how long you can expect to keep your urban chicken.

So if you keep a hen for your own egg consumption, that's at least 2 commercial hens' lives saved.  But, again, keeping it conservative, another 2 to 3 unnecessary roosters weren't  dispatched.

Charter challenge and glib comments about sexism aside, preventing 4 to 5 animal deaths is something to think about.

The Path to Urban Hens: Right Perspective

Greetings wonderful people of Windsor and Essex, and indeed around the world.

So much can be made of the Great Urban Chicken Debate. Reality, if I/we'd never raised the issues when we were raising our chickens, there would have been none. That being said, this issue is greater than the political tail wagging, infantile press reports from columnists, alley humor from Councillors, and general radio noise and nonsense. This, at the core, is a food security issue.
"Food sovereignty" is a term originally coined by Via Campesina in a flyer at the World Food Summit +5 (Rome2002) to refer to a concept advocated by a number of farmers', peasants', and fishermen's organizations, namely the claimed "right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture," in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces.
Peter Rosset, writing in Food First's Backgrounder, fall 2003, argues that "Food sovereignty goes beyond the concept of food security... [Food security] means that... [everyone] must have the certainty of having enough to eat each day[,] ... but says nothing about where that food comes from or how it is produced." The concept of food sovereignty includes support for smallholders and for collectively owned farms, fisheries, etc., rather than industrializing these sectors in a minimally regulated global economy.

"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets, and; to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production."

-"Statement on People's Food Sovereignty" by Via Campesina, et. al.
With that cleared up, on to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. You have to wonder what the real threat is. In my personal career, often the real issue in working with people boils down to personal opinions and control. I think this way so you can't have your way. So much for healthy intellectual or communal research. Sometimes theories abound regarding why mutually committed consensus and reporting will not be an option. Too much money, yet we'll spend 6 million trying to get our way with Greenlink. Human resources, yet we have a surplus of city workers now that garbage is contracted out and the highest unemployment rate in Canada. Hmmm. Seems like we're back to the opinion argument again.

Urban chicken lovers take good courage. Good people with good intentions will triumph in this city, if not today, we shall not disappear, we will not go away, despite being labeled by press and politicians as the 'usual suspects' in the activist field. We shall find our way.

History is a relay of revolutions.

In the meantime, write your Councillor and let them know how you feel. Contact your mayor and ask for a respectable decision for all, for decorum in council. Speak up to your neighbor, get to know them and talk about the real issues. And most of all, if you are so moved to, challenge the status quo. They don't speak for me.

Monday, November 29, 2010

All about Poop

In a recent article in the Windsor Star, Doug Schmidt recently reported that:

One opponent of urban chickens pointed out the filthy fowl each produce about a pound of poop per week. How does one manage that amount of crap, I thought, until I realized that's how much my dog produces each and every morning, even before I start my commute to work.

He went on to explain that Windsor's bylaws also prohibit residents from disposing of said poop in the weekly trash.    Urban chicken opponents might be mollified by the fact that the weekly volume is less than the daily volume of one single dog, but chicken lovers have a completely different perspective, and wouldn't want that poop to leave the property in the first place.

You see, chicken manure is one of the best natural fertilizers for the garden.  According to the website Gardening Know How:

Chicken manure fertilizer is very high in nitrogen and also contains a good amount of potassium and phosphorus. The high nitrogen and balanced nutrients is the reason that chicken manure compost is the best kind of manure to use.
 Composting chicken manure is simple. If you have chickens, you can use the bedding from your own chickens.
 The next step in chicken manure composting is to take the used bedding and put it into a compost bin. Water it thoroughly and then turn it every few weeks to get air into the pile.

What could be simpler than that?  Just wait 9-12 months and the compost is ready.  By feeding kitchen scraps to the chickens and letting them speed up the composting process, it's a good way of both diminishing the amount of waste that goes out on the street, as well as eliminating the need to purchase fertilizer at the store, and saving money on both counts.

What would I do?

I was an auditor and later a consultant for several years before moving to Windsor, so I love drafting recommendations and developing solutions that work.

I believe we need a working group to examine the question from all angles, invite input from the public, and then work out a recommendation based on the results of the findings.   A pilot program would be a helpful tool to reach a well-informed decision.

If I were to run the show, this would be my suggestion:

I would invite a finite number, say 50, of families to apply for a licence to participate in a pilot program on a first-come, first-served basis.  I would not recommend charging a lot for this licence (and I would much prefer no charge at all), but a very modest fee to cover administrative costs is not unreasonable.  After all, one of the objectives is to enable people on a tight budget to obtain affordable quality eggs.  Also, we know there are people with illicit backyard chickens in Windsor.  If they felt the fee was too high, they would simply remain underground.

I would have them sign a short agreement to abide by the rules.

And then I would allow those people to keep chickens.
  • If there were well-founded complaints about the way they were keeping their chickens, the city would have grounds to terminate or refuse to renew their licence.
  • If the pilot program was successful, the city could easily increase the number of licences available to allow a simple expansion of the plan.
This would keep the program manageable.   At the end of the first year, the working group would be required to report back to Council about the successes and challenges of the program.  What do you think?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What do Windsorites Think?

It's hard to tell for sure without a formal referendum.  Some councillors claim their constituents don't want the current bylaw to be overturned.  There seems to be no proof though. (If you haven't done so yet, please email your councillor so they know where you stand)

In fact, Councillor Alan Halberstadt has posted emails he has received from Windsorites on his website, and they are overwhelmingly in favour of allowing urban chickens.

The Windsor chapter of CLUCK has an online poll, which at last count has over 300 votes in favour of urban chickens, and only 6 that are not in favour.  (If you haven't cast your vote yet, please do so!)

I have also been talking about the issue with people I know, and those I don't know so well.  Not one single person told me they think the bylaw should stay as it is.  Responses have ranged from irritation that there is a bylaw at all, to one elderly friend who told me he thought it was a ridiculous concept when he first heard of it;  however, with all the media attention, he's been doing his own research and not only does he now support it, but he would like a couple of chickens of his own!  I even found a family in my own neighbourhood who have kept 2 chickens for the past 4 years.  They have no intention of coming out of the closet after what the bylaws enforcement officers did at Sarah Kacso's house.

This is what I think.  We need to properly frame the question properly before we can determine where Windsorites stand, and that is why we need Council to strike a working committee.  I don't, however, believe we have to make this difficult.  For example, perhaps you would support a bylaw amendment that allows the following:

Up to 3 well-looked after hens (no roosters) in a properly fenced-in area.  Eggs may not be sold, nor may slaughtering take place on the premises.

If that were the gist of the bylaw, would you want to keep chickens yourself?  Or would you support others' right to have them?  Are those rules too restrictive or not restrictive enough?  Would you want the chickens to reside a certain distance away from  neighbouring properties?  If so, what distance would be appropriate? 

What do you think?  What is missing?  Please leave your comment below.


Let's dispel the noise myth.   It's very simple.

Roosters are noisy, chickens are not.  We are not calling for the legalization of roosters.

Roosters are not needed in order for chickens to lay eggs, as councillor Ron Jones discovered when he asked us this question in the Licencing Commission meeting.

Hens are quiet creatures, and make far less noise than dogs or the traffic outside your gate.  They cluck and make small noises, but it's not a sound that would normally be heard in the neighbour's yard.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why not just buy eggs at the store?

It's a fair question.  Regular eggs certainly are pretty cheap.

However, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

There are several reasons to eat pastured eggs:
  • Pastured, organic eggs are nutritionally superior to the cheap eggs you get in the stores.  Want to know more?  Check out the study Mother Earth News commissioned.
  • Commercial eggs in Ontario are produced indoors.  Even organic or free-run chickens never get to go outside.  I got this information directly from Grey Ridge Eggs, the major producer in our area.  Why is this a problem?  Well, chickens that go outside get to produce more vitamin D, which they produce by being outside in the sun.  They are also creatures that are built for foraging.  They like to peck at the dirt with their beaks.  Indoor chickens can't do this.
  • Currently the only pastured eggs are available from farmers in the county.  However, they are not allowed to sell their ungraded eggs beyond the farm gate.  So obtaining farm eggs involves a lot of driving, which I prefer to avoid.  Some people don't drive at all.  This means they don't even have the option of buying pastured eggs.  That sounds unfair to me.
  • Food security is another concern.  For one thing, all of our commercial eggs in the stores come from outside Essex County.  What would we do if our supply channels were ever broken?  What if a major outbreak of a disease shut down commercial egg production?
  • Animal rights organizations have some serious concerns with factory farmed foods.  If you're interested in learning more, there is a book (available at the library) titled Prisoned Chicken, Poisoned Eggs: A look at the modern poultry industry, with lots of food for thought.  Or you might want to watch the movie, Food, Inc.  See the trailer below, and then, if you'd like to watch more, you can borrow it from Windsor Public Library.
For these reasons,  residents should be allowed to keep their own hens. 


    There are people who are concerned that backyard chickens will cause their neighbourhoods to become infested by vermin.

    The first thing to think about is that some Windsor neighbourhoods already have a rat problem.  So adding chickens to the mix won't start a problem that doesn't already exist.  However there are some things to think about in order to prevent an escalation.

    The first and foremost way to avoid rat problems is to keep the henhouse clear of food that rats like to eat.  (That holds true for yards without chickens too, of course)  Since hens and rats both thrive on the same kinds of food, it's vitally important to remove leftover food at night, and ensure the container used for storing chicken feed is kept tightly shut.

    You also need to keep your coop clean, replacing the straw at regular intervals and removing droppings.

    After dusk, when the hens are in for the night,  shut the coop door to keep predators out.

    The risk of flying predators is eliminated by covering the coop with chicken wire.

    As for predators like foxes, possums, and even dogs on the loose, these can be kept at bay by digging the coop's wire fencing into the ground.

    There are plenty of online resources available to help vermin-proof your yard.  In the same way that responsible dog and cat owners take reasonable precautions to keep their pets safe and and their home environment clean, you can quite easily do the same for your backyard chickens.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Licencing Commission Recommendation

    For the past two years, a group of Windsor residents has been working behind the scenes to get the issue of backyard chickens on the table at City Council.

    First we gathered a lot of information.  We went before the Licencing Commission, which is chaired by Councillor Ron Jones.  They listened to our proposal, asked a number of questions, and said they would get back to us.

    It took almost 9 months, but they finally produced a report with a recommendation that City Council form a working group to examine the matter more fully.  In their words:

    This issue should be debated in an open and transparent manner, allowing for full consultation with residents.

    You can read the background to their recommendation online at this link.  It is really worth looking at, because they did a fair amount of research into the status of the urban chicken movement in Canada, as well as looking at the pros and cons involved.