Jessica Lowry and her chickens. (Submitted photo)

Let’s make 2021 the year of the chicken in Ladysmith

Health columnist Jessica Lowry advocates for chickens to be allowed in Ladysmith

Every year I make family calendars with photos as a means to remember and celebrate and make darn sure I actually do something with all the photos on my phone. And so here are my two youngest kiddos one night, having a little retrospective into 2020, looking back through photos and landing on a part of the year that was very special to them and very different- our backyard chickens.

And there was no laughter let me tell you.

Floods of tears and rage erupted for a solid two hours. They painfully went over the lives of this brood who started as fluffy chicks sleeping in the kids’ rooms under a light. They flipped through images to the ladies as near to egg-laying hens, reminiscing about their daily feeding routine, and ‘snuggles’.

I honestly can’t say they ever really ‘snuggled’ but the power of nostalgia is strong and the connection was very real. (A chicken snuggle looks more like bracing around their wings and close enough to your face to get a wispy tickle of silky soft feathers and feel a little racing heartbeat slower and slower in your soft but firm squeeze.)

Sheer heartbreak was re-played when the kids remembered the final blow that led to having to give our chickens away. A mystery neighbour’s complaint directed the town bylaw officer to our house enforcing Ladysmith’s complaint-driven bylaw that prohibits backyard chickens. And just to be clear this was gut-wrenching for me too! I was a puddle when we had to take those birds away.

So, I let the kids go through this whole gamete of emotion and child-appropriate responses. Through heartfelt tears they got to work, writing comic book-type letters to the ‘government’ indicating what they had initially thought of them, ie: ‘good”, and what they now think of them now, ie” ‘evil’. They sourced envelopes and stamps to ‘send them right away.’

Where were they thinking of sending them to? I didn’t know. But they had conviction their efforts would exact immediate change.

I was affected by the emotion of my children. Why? Because they operate in a place of paired down truth that is available when we peer through the veil of adult imposed and often archaic regulation that doesn’t keep up with the moment. Children often teach us how to understand the moment and maybe we ought to pay more attention to their wisdom.

Ladysmith made a commitment in 2008 to a sustainability vision. This includes 8 pillars through which sustainability is approached. They include local food systems, complete community land use, local economy and healthy community. Supporting backyard chickens ticks four of the 8 pillars effortlessly. With backyard chickens we produce food, use residential property intentionally, eggs can be gifted, shared or exchanged for other services and on so many levels rearing chickens encourages healthy community. Over a year into a global pandemic seems the exact right time to support local endeavours that uphold all of these pillars.

It was the pandemic that sent us on our chicken run in the first place. As we waded through the muck and mire of homeschool/school and work from home, our family landed on this idea of chickens as a means to learn about committing to some of our own food production. We also learned about animal husbandry, daily responsibility, and making good use of our food compost. (I still habitually put aside scraps for chickens in their own separate compost.)

A yoga student graciously supplied the chicks in exchange for yoga classes and helped us immensely with all sorts of answers to all sorts of questions, including how to wipe a tiny chicks bum when they are so delicately new. How could we not become attached to these fluff balls after weeks of sensitively strategic bum wiping?

Birds were so new to us we found ourselves neurotically directing questions to our guru. Do all those feathers keep them warm enough at night? The chickens ate my garden beans! Google says no to beans! Will my chicken be ok? Will she die? Is chicken panting normal? Is she hot? Was it the beans? Do baby chicks have a witching hour like my kids did? Because they sure seem to! Can a chicken mate with a peacock? (yes it’s possible and equals a chickpea- look it up!) Can I love a chicken? Can a chicken love me?

We came home with five including two teenage Rhode Island Reds and three Plymouth Barred Rock chicks. The first to be named was in honour of George Orwell’s 1984 and she became the female version of Winston, Winnie. Then evolved Mother, Blue beak, Beanie and Bubs.

The chicken coop became a play space and a zen space. My husband and I would wake early and have our coffee with them. Neighbourhood friends would play for hours outside with the brood. Our neighbourhood peacock Peeky would swing by and show off his dapper springtail and threaten to join the bevy of beauties. I’d wonder sometimes why I felt so calm hanging out with these birds and watching them. Chickens provide an un-anxious example of how to live without worry. They were just there, very quiet, tucked out of site and behind a hedge, sittin’ pretty. They clucked here and there but mostly they hummed.

There was a new and living, breathing energy on our property. We loved that energy — we were caring for these creatures and they were caring for us, by just being chickens.

We know Ladysmith has been the ‘prettiest town in Canada’. But now, sustainability is the new pretty. Edible garden landscapes, green roofs and backyard chickens are all ‘pretty’ in the way of being useful, supportive, and mindful of our necessary connection to the land.

I know there are arguments against the permission of backyard birds. People say chickens attract rodents, the coops can smell and they are noisy. These issues can be easily mitigated and controlled if the city puts a reasonable limit on how many chickens one property can have, enforces a no rooster clause, and has guidelines for regular cleaning.

Nanaimo and Duncan both permit backyard chickens. Our bylaw is way behind our neighbours.

Ladysmith could change this bylaw now. It would be aligned with their sustainability vision and bolster food security.

in this moment of great challenge. If none of that persuades you, think about the kids. Our children deserve a sustainable future. How wonderful will it be if the Town gets on board to show our kids the value of connecting to land, local food sources and all in the awesome spirit of community that is the heartbeat of this small Town.

I’ve caught wind that this council could be ready to put this issue back on the table and show that they are listening and invested in a sustainable, green future. My kids will be making their voices heard. Please show your support and address your desire to challenge this by-law and support the permission of backyard chickens in Ladysmith. Send a quick word of support from yourself (and/or your kids) to raise this issue to CAO Allison McCarrick amccarrick@ladysmith.ca

Ladysmith Chronicle