If you have always wanted to keep chickens in your back yard, then consider purchasing a home in Okotoks. Town council has just unanimously passed a bylaw to allow homeowners to keep hens. Now people who love the daily fresh eggs won’t fun a-fowl of the law.
In the spring of 2015, the town started an Urban Hen Pilot Project to determine how many residents would be interested in keeping hens and to see how it would go. Keeping poultry in the backyard can often cause bad neighbour relations due to noise and odour if poultry is not properly cared for and their habitat maintained.
The pilot ended in September and it went so well that the pilot project is now the Urban Hen Program. There were a few hiccups and a few neighbours that weren’t exactly in favour of the program, but the town’s municipal enforcement squad worked with those people about their concerns.
Some of the issues were the noise the chickens might make and the unpleasant smell that often results when bedding isn’t changed on a regular basis and discarded properly. The back yards of participating residents proved to be quiet and clean and no complaints came into town hall during the pilot.
There is a bylaw that prevents Okotoks residents from keeping livestock in the back yard, however the chicken allowance is deemed a program and a bylaw has been passed with strict guidelines and regulations so that exceptions to the livestock bylaw are allowed.
There are only a limited number of households in Okotoks that are allowed to participate under the program. There were 12 families in the pilot and they have been given the green light to carry on.
Only three hens are allowed at one time and no roosters are allowed. People must take out a permit to have hens and take a chicken safety course. A proper chicken coop must be constructed and home owners must agree to have it inspected from time to time.
For this purpose, a “proper” chicken coop is defined as being a fully-enclosed structure that is weather proof with a secure outdoor pen attached to the coop with a dirt or grass floor that can be no larger than 10 square metres in area and two meters or less high. It has to be sturdy enough that coyotes or foxes can’t break into the yard or chicken coop.
Each bird requires a nest box.
The coop and attached yard must be placed three metres from a structure and one metre from the back lane or if the home is on a corner lot, 3.6 metres away from the street.
Bedding must be replaced and disposed of in a timely manner, well before it begins to smell of ammonia. Chicken feed has to be in a secure area. Hens eat grain and corn which will attract other pests to the yard.
Hen keepers aren’t allowed to sell the eggs or the meat or slaughter hens on the property.
Keeping back yard chickens was legal more than 100 years ago and people in urban centres around the world break bylaws to keep chickens. This is actually how this pilot program got its legs.
An Okotoks mothers had chickens illegally and voluntarily removed them when they were discovered. However, the three hens were like family pets so she and her young children decided to lobby Okotoks town council to start a pilot program.
Jenni Bailey is also the president of CLUCK (Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Club) and was successful in getting the program approved.
An Urban Hen Program license is $30 a year.