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Council sits on backyard chicken debate

Twelve-year-old Sierra Oatman sent a letter to Cranbrook City Council urging that the topic of backyard chickens be revisited.    - Arne Petryshen photo
Twelve-year-old Sierra Oatman sent a letter to Cranbrook City Council urging that the topic of backyard chickens be revisited.
— image credit: Arne Petryshen photo

Could the hens come back to roost on Cranbrook backyard chickens?

Twelve-year-old Sierra Oatman hopes so. The Highlands Elementary student sent a letter to the city on the topic with the hopes that the topic could be revisited.

"I'm writing to you because I want to know how to change your mind about owning laying hens in town," Sierra wrote.

The letter appeared in the agenda package for the Monday, June 9, council meeting. Sierra was in the audience with her mom.

In the letter, Sierra argued that it doesn't make make sense that people in Vancouver are free to raise up to four hens in their backyard, while in Cranbrook the municipal bylaw prohibits it.

"I do not understand why a big city of around two million people can raise hens in the city, but a small town of about 22,000 people cannot," she wrote.

Sierra said that she wants to eat healthy and raise hens that have not been fed steroids or hormones.

In Vancouver, residents are not allowed roosters, other fowl or livestock.

Mayor Stetski noted city council had a discussion on the topic two years ago, when a resident brought forward a request to raise not just chickens, but other animals in Cranbrook.

"As I recall, he wanted other animals besides chickens to be kept in Cranbrook, including goats and turkeys and other things," Stetski said. It was voted down.

Stetski said he would bring a motion back to a future council meeting to consider allowing chickens in the city.

Sierra wrote that Vancouver residents can keep hens under these simple rules as long as they meet the residential requirements:

• A maximum of four hens;

• Hens must be four months or older;

• No other fowl or livestock are allowed;

• Eggs, meat and manure can't be used for commercial purposes; no backyard slaughtering.

Coun. Angus Davis supported Sierra's letter.

"I lived in a small community for a number of years where people didn't want chickens," Davis said. "One man decided he was going to have chickens. He had them in his yard and they never caused anybody one bit of trouble. I don't know what's going to happen with this, but as long as I'm on this council I support you one hundred per cent."

Coun. Sharon Cross said the letter also speaks to a wider issue of food security and poverty reduction.

"I think there is a place for having chickens, how that would look ... every community does it slightly different," Cross said.

Cross noted that she bought free-range eggs until she found out that the requirements for the "free-range" designation are not very high.

"A free-range chicken only gets a three to four foot space in which to roam," she said. "I grew up on a farm; I don't think that's free-range."

She now buys from a local farm.

Coun. Gerry Warner said a lot of people are disconnected from the origins of their food.

"People today tend to believe that food isn't food until it's wrapped in styrofoam or some sort of package. We're losing that connection," he said. "If this comes up again, you can count on my vote."

Coun. Denise Pallesen said that although keeping chickens is currently prohibited in the city, there are stores that sell organic and free-range chickens and eggs in Cranbrook.

Coun. Diana J. Scott had some concerns with chickens being kept in the city.

"It sounds lovely in principle, but there are things to take into consideration," Scott said.

The City of Vancouver passed its backyard chicken bylaw in 2011, while New Westminster has had a bylaw regulating backyard chickens since 1968. North Vancouver allows for up to eight hens to be kept in a backyard of certain residences, under a bylaw passed in 2012.  The New Westminster bylaw is more restrictive than Vancouver's bylaw and sets limits on how small a property can be to have chickens and how near to a neighbour's yard it can be. By comparison, Vancouver's bylaw is directed at an urban hen raiser with much looser restrictions.

The City of Vancouver bylaw sets the limits of at least 0.37 sq. metres of coop floor area per hen and 0.92 sq. metres of roofed outdoor enclosure.

Cranbrook council received Sierra's letter as information.

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