Councillors Maintain Chicken Ban, Resident Launches Petition

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 16, 2012

Last Thursday, City Councillors in the planning committee voted to direct staff not to investigate the possibility of allowing backyard chickens. This isn't the first time Councillors have shied away from even considering whether to revisit the city's ban on urban hens.

Once again, it is Councillor Lloyd Ferguson behind the push to take chickens off the table without even bothering to find out whether the current policy still makes sense.

"At the end of the day," Ferguson is quoted saying in the Spectator, "we're just going to shut it down anyway. There are health risks, there are rodent risks, there are odour issues."

Except that the city's own public health department is saying chickens pose no greater risk than cats or dogs.

Kudos to Councillor Jason Farr for trying to revisit this issue, but shame on the rest of the planning committee for refusing to get informed before deciding to leave the ban in place.

Urban Chicken Petition

One Hamilton resident isn't content to let the matter rest. Teresa Gregario has organized a petition calling on City Council to stop ducking the issue.

Backyard chickens allow for fresh, extremely local food production on a small, manageable scale. The reasons cited for banning these animals from within city limits are unfounded. They pose no greater health risk than cats and are not anywhere near the noise disturbance of dogs. Responsible pet ownership makes urban chickens not only efficient food producers, but sensible animals to allow within the city limits of Hamilton, Ontario.

As at this writing, the petition has 219 signatures (disclosure: one of them is mine).

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2012 at 08:12:31

You know what might happen if we allow backyard hens?

Probably we'll join the ranks of the disease ridden, rat infested slum towns such as Vancouver, New York, Portland, Seattle, etc...

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 15:33:29 in reply to Comment 73058

I don't know much about the issue, so I'm not yet for or against hens in the backyard, but I'm surprised you chose to mention New York in your list. New York is considered to be the city with the most rats.

In fact, of the cities in the US with the biggest rat problems (Atlanta, Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, Baltimore, New York), only Boston doesn't allow hens in the backyard.

Another thing I which causes me concern is that even a website devoted to backyard hens admits/warns that rats are a major problem where hens are kept.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 17:34:22 in reply to Comment 73092

I'd be interested to know if any studies have been done on the causes of rat problems, and whether or not there is any correlation with backyard chickens.

I would think that the number of people who actually have backyard chickens in New York is rather small overall, and perhaps not directly connected to the areas where rats present the largest problem. But again, this is just my guess.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 18:00:21 in reply to Comment 73096

Could be totally wrong, but I've always heard that NYC infamous rat problem is due to thousands of restaurants and piles of garbage in back alleys.
To suggest Manhattan is infested with rats because folks in Brooklyn have backyard chickens is a bit much.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 18:20:43 in reply to Comment 73098

I totally agree. I wasn't suggesting that backyard chickens are the reason for New York's rat infestation.

I was just responding to Sean's sarcasm about New York.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 08:44:20

Have no fear though, we are allowing tarantulas and snakes.

I have a friend in Portland who has 3 kids and a couple chickens. They love it for the food production and the kids love playing with the hens. Fairly strict guidelines too for those wanting to have backyard chickens. Chickens will never become the blight on our cities that stray cats and dogs are.

Edit: the thing most annoying to me about this isn't whether they vote to allow chickens or not, but that they are choosing to keep their heads in the sand and not even debate it.
Also, as we've found recently is becoming the norm, they ignore excellent advice or staff reports presented to them. Why are we paying for lawyers and staffers if council is just going to sit around and ignorantly pretend that they know better??

Comment edited by jason on 2012-01-16 08:57:31

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2012 at 14:55:25 in reply to Comment 73059

the thing most annoying to me about this isn't whether they vote to allow chickens or not, but that they are choosing to keep their heads in the sand and not even debate it.


It isn't cool and we need to push that this be reviewed. @SeanCB hit the nail on the head. We want to be a big city, stop ignoring seemingly small issues that could go a long way in changing the way people look at Hamilton.


300 cities across North America have lifted bans on urban chickens

300 cities in North America including the major metropolitans mentioned, realize there is no reason to ban chickens for noise, health or any other reasons.

How do you not read one small paragraph like that and decide it's something that must be reviewed. You couldn't even use an excuse like 'Staff is swamped'. You don't need staff. There are 300 other communities with the document we need to lift this ban. Ask for the right to use it and change out the city at the top. Then spend some time reading it, realize there is no reason to not change this bi-law, and put this to bed. Watch the emails in outrage over this stop. That's gotta save some 'time' in itself. Or maybe council will receive some positive emails and phone calls expressing their joy over such a success story. I bet it would feel good to receive a few of those.

Comment edited by lawrence on 2012-01-16 15:34:54

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 09:04:06

A bit more background. Over 300 North American cities allow chickens:

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By Rick Santorum (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 09:34:42

In Hamilton, the definition of domestic animal has not ever to my knowledge included chickens. That's not to pick on chickens. It's not, you know, chickens, or hens, or roosters, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that one thing you have a dramatic impact on the quality [of life]."

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 09:54:24 in reply to Comment 73062

Next thing you know people will want to marry them!

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 09:40:59

Hamilton should certainly allow backyard chickens, but license all urban animals and funnel resources to animal welfare enforcement. Housing a chicken and collecting its delicious ova is one thing. Caring for it and paying to have it treated by a qualified vet if and when it gets sick is another.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 15:38:39 in reply to Comment 73066

So you want to charge a fee to the owner because you are concerned that they won't be able to pay for it's care? Doesn't make sense to me.

The last thing we need is more (needless?) government bureaucracy.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2012 at 14:23:20 in reply to Comment 73066

I believe chickens can be easily cared for by a qualified cleaver, hatchet or other means of decapitation.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 17:22:06 in reply to Comment 73084

I really hope the people downvoting this are vegetarians.

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By beer can (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 17:27:39 in reply to Comment 73084

Don't forget the beer can to place them over the fire with

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2012 at 11:33:01

I'll be letting my councillor know that I take a solid pro-backyard-chicken stance. This is not untried ground; we have plenty of models for this sort of thing.

Go, chickens!

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 17:27:18

Was just a suggestion. You can make licensing free, if you like, and make the penalties steep and have them go to help underwrite welfare standards enforcement. Cats and dogs have recommended/mandated shot schedules, so we'd probably look at that in certain situations. And then, just to be progressive, we would allow people to raise cats and dogs for food.

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By Colin (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 17:46:53

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By Colin (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 19:10:41 in reply to Comment 73097

“In general, things in a place like Portland are really great, so little concerns become ridiculous. There are a lot of people here who can afford—financially but also psychologically—to be really, really concerned about buying local, for instance. It becomes mock epic. It’s like Alexander Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock.’ I was standing in line at Whole Foods, and the guy in front of me says, ‘I really wish you guys sold locally made fresh pasta.’ And the cashier says, ‘Look, we do.’ And the guy says, ‘No, no—that’s from Seattle.’ Really? You don’t have a bigger battle?”

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By TnT (registered) | Posted January 16, 2012 at 22:06:27

Maybe this is bad advice, espeically coming from me, but I will be there are numerous chickens and other livestock being kept inside city borders. It is against the law, technically, but the city just doesn’t have the resources to enforce it. Again, I know that is the wrong attitude, but the real issue should be moving away from huge, outdated bylaws and toward a more citizen minded approach. I’ve been reading up on the hotel laws as of late, and did you know innkeepers need a certain amount of space to house horses? Horses fine. Chickens no.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 27, 2012 at 11:57:03 in reply to Comment 73105

I think that's in case the Ti-Cats ever face a Western team in the Grey Cup.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 00:30:18

I may be vegan, but this rule seems a little bizzare. If nothing else because of the greatly exaggerated disease, pest and waste problems which come from centralizing chicken "production" into colossal hundred-thousand-bird warehouses. For those who aren't convinced though, here's what chickens can do for you, even if you don't eat them.

  • Fertilizing - through nitrogen-rich manure and mineral-rich eggshells
  • Organic Waste Disposal - Chickens are walking compost heaps, able to scratch, eat and pick through kitchen scraps and other green waste to greatly accellerate the process.
  • Pest reduction - Chickens eat bugs, like most small fowl (ducks, geese etc) are great predators for garden pests.
  • No-dig tillage - Many organic operations use "chicken tracktors" (small coops on wheels) to prepare ground for planting because of how effectively they scour and enrich ground with none of the soil-depleting, energy-hogging and carbon-releasing drawbacks of plowing.
  • Genetics - factory-farmed chicken are specially bred to be grown in factories, not to be tasty, nutritious or friendly. I've known a lot of farmers, and other breeds are renowned for everything from amazing eggs to their amazing pet-like friendliness.
  • Labour - Do you know any "chicken catchers"? Ask them what their job entails...
  • Food Security - what do you plan to do if supermarket trucks ever stop delivering for more than a week? In such situations, hungry neighbours are not friendly neighbours...
  • Poverty - What about people who can't afford to buy eggs, and don't have the space for an expansive bean and seed garden?
  • Freedom - the burden of proof should be placed on those who wish to prohibit something, not those who simply want to be allowed to do it.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:13:36 in reply to Comment 73107

All great points. My favourite being the last one.

Freedom - the burden of proof should be placed on those who wish to prohibit something, not those who simply want to be allowed to do it.

Must be time for an after 5 gathering?

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 07:59:03

"Two chicken inspectors showed up at a farm in Southern Ontario not long ago. They flashed badges and inspected the premises and, sure enough, they found what they were looking for: chickens. About 100 of them, wandering across open pastures, pecking at bugs, worms and blades of grass.

The inspectors quickly put a stop to all that. They told the farmer to get rid of his chickens or face the consequences. Then they visited other nearby farms, issuing threats of fines (up to $10,000 a day), and leaving more than one Amish farm wife in tears.

These were not police, RCMP or public-health officials. They were employees of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, the body that represents Ontario’s roughly 1,000 chicken farmers, and they have the legal right to “inspect the books, records, documents, lands and premises and any chickens of persons engaged in producing or marketing chickens.” In other words, they can carry out chicken busts. And on this particular bust, their suspicions were confirmed: Delicious pastured chickens were being sold without quota.

Quota is a legal requirement for marketing chickens, turkey, eggs or cow milk in Canada. Without it, the simple bucolic act of selling a block of farmstead cheese or several dozen eggs at a farmers’ market is against the law. It’s been this way for almost half a century. If you want access to the market, you have to pay for it. And access isn’t cheap.

This kind of arrangement is better known as a cartel. Cartels fix prices. Usually, they’re illegal, but not in Canada. In fact, when it comes to poultry, dairy and eggs, not being part of a cartel is illegal – as many an Amish farm wife can tell you.

The Canadian food cartel goes by its own special name: “supply management.” Critics have charged that supply management makes food disproportionately expensive (especially for the poor), cripples our agricultural sector and is holding us back from entering lucrative trade deals with Asia.

But here’s what hasn’t been said about supply management: It is the enemy of deliciousness.

If you have ever wondered why you can buy heritage chickens such as the famed poulet de Bresse in France but not in Canada, or pastured butter the colour of an autumn sunset in Ireland but not in Canada, or why it’s so hard to find pastured eggs here, the reason is supply management.

Great ingredients, as any good cook will tell you, come from small producers who lovingly tend their flocks and the land that sustains them. These artisan producers – the very people attempting to make food local and sustainable – are stifled under supply management because it requires the one thing these starry-eyed pastoralists almost always don’t have: money. A single cow’s worth of dairy quota, for example, costs about $27,000 (up to $40,000 in B.C.). Quota for one egg-laying hen can cost upward of $200."

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 13:10:07 in reply to Comment 73109

Wow. Just wow. And wow again.

Over time I never found a lot of disagreement between the animal rights books on my shelves and old roommate's fine antique french cooking books. It's well understood that any kind of mistreatment (especially in the hour or so before slaughter) leads to inferior meat. Extend that over a lifetime of cruelty, confinement and crowding, and the quality of the meat you produce will suffer immeasurably. No wonder it's now considered terrorism in America to videotape and publicize these conditions.

We live in a country with some of the most subsidized food on earth, yet also one where average small-farmer incomes tend to be negative. Something needs to change. It's not working for producers, consumers or the chickens involved.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:10:28 in reply to Comment 73109

Thanks Leghonrn. That piece of data is sick.

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By Just Askin' (anonymous) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 13:47:57

Are there any pigeon racing enthusiasts in the city? What rules cover their birds?

And as far as raising animals in the backyard for food, are there any laws against raising rabbits for food, provided that it is all done humanely?

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 16:23:02 in reply to Comment 73126

I know/knew of one. I forget exactly where he lives(d). Maybe Mount Hope? In that area anyway, in a rural area.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 18:03:31

Had to leap over a pile of horse crap while crossing the street downtown today. I guess that's considered OK, but hens confined to back yards would be too dirty for us?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 21:45:06

What about raising pigeons for food? Squab drumettes anyone?

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By leghorn1 (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2012 at 14:37:22

Sad that the Council don't even try to get the facts about urban chickens,,,, really surprised about Ferguson's comments .. usually he takes a tempered approach. another reason for a term limit for councillors... we need some fresh thinkers ,,, not the same old / same old

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 04:03:21

One thing I can say about chicken poop, is that in it's 'green stage' it's highly flammable. There could be a problem for some to manage it. It generates a lot of heat, due to the high nitrogen & ammonia content, & can simply smolder & then burst into flames when left in a heap. It needs a fairly long decomp. period before it can be mixed with other substances & used in the garden as fertilizer.

I think that people should probably attend some basic course on urban chicken management before they begin. (if any exist) At least get some books or information online.

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