Just as some people with dogs and cats do not take proper care of their pets, the same could potentially be true for chickens.  The decision to become an urban chicken keeper should not be taken lightly.

There are several potential concerns and a host of myths, many of which are unfounded.  It is in the everybody's interests, on both sides of the debate, to be well-informed and balanced.  The City's Licencing Commission identified the following potential concerns:

  • Spread of disease
  • Vermin
  • Smell and Noise
  • Resources needed to police chicken owners
  • Animals at large
  • Slaughter
  • Irresponsible pet owners
  • Abandoned chickens
  • Fees to licence birds not offsetting costs of enforcement
  • If chickens are allowed, what next?

Disease:  The risks of disease and contamination from large-scale factory farming have had the unfortunate effect of mistakenly convincing some people that those risks are likewise present in small backyard coops. 
When it comes to bird flu, diverse small-scale poultry farming is the solution, not the problem. - 2006 GRAIN Report
Backyard or free-range poultry are not fuelling the current wave of bird flu outbreaks stalking large parts of the world. The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices.   Source.
Veterinary and public health experts are satisfied that backyard chickens are not carriers of human diseases.  People are more likely to encounter salmonella in their own kitchens from factory-farm animals that were pumped full of antibiotics throughout their short lives before they were slaughtered, packaged and sold.  Source

There are few health risks to worry about from a well-kept backyard coop with only several hens.  Think about health risks when you own a dog or a cat - they are potentially there, but most of us don't worry about them too much.  Think also about the numerous wild Canada geese we have on the waterfronts in Windsor - is anybody worried about them spreading disease?  What about homes that keep 80 pigeons - do they pose a health concern we should be worried about?

On the other hand, commercially produced eggs come packaged with risks and warnings most of us don't even question anymore.  If anything, the history of recalls from commercial eggs has taught us that they are the real health risk we need to be concerned about.

The Kingston Board of Health produced a report in June 2009, concluding that backyard hens pose no health concerns.

Or read this opinion by David A. Halvorson, Charter Diplomate American College of  Poultry Veterinarians, who wrote that an urban flock of six to ten female chickens is very unlikely to pose disease risk to other poultry and is very unlikely to pose a nuisance risk to neighbors or the community. 

Vermin:  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, and people with concerns about this might wish to consider petitioning to outlaw wild bird seed too.  As Mad City Chickens points out,
It is food that attracts rodents, not the birds. If you have wild bird feeders in your back yard, you run the same risk.

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.  Read more here.

Smell:  Dogs and cats, which are perfectly legal in Windsor, create smelly situations.  A dirty chicken coop may smell, and an overcrowded one will too.  However, we are asking for a bylaw change that allows residents to own just a handful of chickens in a well-kept coop.  And the smell from a handful of well-kept chickens is much less than than the smell generated by a large dog.  Besides, chicken poop can be added back to the garden as a high quality organic fertilizer, whereas dog poop presents disposal issues.  (Did you know dog poop may not be disposed of in your weekly trash?  Read the bylaw here;  scroll down to 5.2(b))

Noise:  This one's very simple.  Roosters are noisy, chickens are not.  We are not calling for the legalization of roosters.  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.

Resources needed to police chicken owners:  The thinking is that a small number of law-abiding chicken owners might be ok, but what if somebody decides to have a flock of 30, or keep roosters?

For argument's sake, let's say the City decides residents may own up to 3 hens, and no roosters. As of today, it is against the bylaw to own 30 chickens. After the hypothetical law-change, this would stay equally illegal.

So rather than worrying about additional resources to challenge homeowners who flaunt the rules in the future, shouldn't we start by looking at how much of a drain on public resources it is today?

Furthermore, let's look at the experience from some other cities that have legal backyard hens (scroll to "Download myths & facts"):

Bill Porter, Director of Animal Control, Fort Collins, CO: He says that since legalization of hens, he’s received two complaints regarding smell and location of the coop, and both cases were unfounded.  He said that the ordinance was written well, and because of that, there ha[ve] been no problems.
Bill Porter Phone Number: 970-226-3647

Patrick Comfort, Animal Control Supervisor, Madison, WI: He said, "there have been almost zero calls in 8 years to complain about chickens". In his estimation, legalization has been "a very positive experience". He added that he has seen that the ordinance has "opened up neighborhoods" by getting neighbors interacting. "People are looking over the fence and talking about the chickens, asking neighbors if they want some eggs, or if they will watch the chickens".
Patrick Comfort Phone Number:  608-243-0309

Animals at large:  We propose that the bylaw require owners to keep their urban hens properly fenced in, just as the law requires of owners of dogs. 

The current bylaw requires owners of pigeons to band their birds.  The same could be done with hens.  This would enable the owners of any hens at large to be identified, and dealt with in the same manner that the City is already dealing with pigeons and dogs at large.

Slaughter:  We do not propose allowing the slaughter of chickens in urban backyards.  There are slaughterhouses in the Windsor area that can take care of this for residents.

Irresponsible pet owners:  There are several ways to deal with this.  One way is to issue a limited number of annual licences to would-be urban hen owners.  If they prove to be irresponsible, the City would have the option of refusing the licence renewal.  On the other hand, the experience in other cities has been that this is not a big issue, if at all.  Issuing licences would in all likelihood add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

If urban hens are legalized, CLUCK Windsor would like to form a support group (free of charge) to deal with any problems if and when they arise, as well as to advise people thinking about starting a coop.  We could, for example, find new homes for hens belonging to residents who find themselves in over their heads.  Legalizing urban hens will legitimize the support services we would like to establish.

Abandoned chickens:  See "animals at large" and "irresponsible pet owners".

Fees to licence birds not offsetting costs of enforcement:  In order to answer this one, we would need the answers to the following questions:  do dog licence fees offset the costs of dog enforcement?  Cats don't need licences at all - how does the city deal with them?

More importantly, what are the costs of urban chicken enforcement today?  And when the City does investigate complaints, to what extent are these complaints simply reports that owners have urban hens?  Or do they involve specific issues like animals at large, noise or smell?  You see, the former would cease to be enforceable complaints if urban hens are legalized, and that would be represent a cost-saving to the Bylaw Enforcement Department.

If chickens are allowed, what next?  CLUCK Windsor has no plans to request any other changes to the bylaw.  But seriously, what kind of question is that?  How does the prospect of a future challenge to an existing bylaw invalidate this request?

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    Please keep the Windsor urban chicken discussion going! We love to 'read your constructive comments.