Moving forward with urban hens

Applications available for newly-approved program in City


Council has been considering the idea of urban hen keeping in Lacombe, following a presentation last September from residents interested in keeping chickens in urban settings, to promote local food production and sustainable gardening and farming practices.

At that time we recognized urban hen keeping as a growing trend and directed City administration to develop a pilot project after researching similar initiatives in other communities. The Town of Okotoks and the City of Red Deer are two examples of municipalities with a designated bylaw for keeping hens, which incorporate regulations from a variety of farming and government sources.

I am well aware that the notion of having hens in Lacombe has generated much discussion in the community. There are many and varied opinions on both the benefits and the risks to urban hen keeping.

Urban hens have benefits similar to that of gardens, in that residents have more control over their own food production. This aligns with one of the goals of the City of Lacombe’s Municipal Sustainability Plan, to ensure that ‘healthy local food is affordable and accessible to everyone, local farming and gardens are supported, and farming is transitioning towards sustainable practices.’

However, urban hens do present concerns, such as nuisances and animal safety, which needs to be addressed through regulation. Nuisances can include noise, odour, and attraction of pests. Animal safety concerns such as the proper keeping of hens, coop space requirements, food types, disease control, and the disposal of dead birds must be addressed.

In order to address these and other concerns, the City developed the Urban Hen Bylaw 419, to regulate the keeping of chickens in urban areas. Administration also conducted a survey to gather public input on the project.

The survey had a total of 321 responses. In general, approximately half of those surveyed (170) were interested having urban hens and 64% (206) were in favour of having hens allowed in their neighbourhoods. The survey also confirmed that four hens per site were adequate.

The survey highlighted citizen concerns, with noise, smell and unsightly being the highest (21%), and lack of proper care of the hens (20%) the next most mentioned concern. Citizens pointed out food security (25%) and educational opportunities (22%) as the top benefits of having the program. I am pleased to report that council approved the bylaw on June 27th after amending it to ensure consistency with the Livestock Control Bylaw 35.

Bylaw 419 requires individuals to apply for annual licences to keep hens, and calls for approved facilities and birds to be subject to ongoing inspections. It also specifies the rules and regulations that the municipality has determined to be compliant with provincial standards for the care of hens.

Under this bylaw, only 10 residential properties will be allowed to keep hens for the duration of the pilot project. Residents interested in hen keeping within City limits will have to go through an application process to receive a licence.

Approved applicants must provide for the birds essential needs in order to maintain good health and prevent distress, disease, and other welfare issues. Under Section 8 of the bylaw, the chief administrative officer (CAO) may refuse to issue a license if the 50% or more of the applicant’s neighbours are not in support.

Hens must be at least 16 weeks old, and must be registered with the province and meet all federal and provincial legislation requirements; roosters are prohibited. The flock is limited to four hens.

Hens must be contained within a chicken coop and enclosed outer area. The coop must be in a rear yard and located no less than 0.9 metres from the side and rear boundaries. The total size of the coop and outside area is 10 square metres and the coop height must not exceed 2.4 metres.

The bylaw also lays out sanitary requirements, such as composting or disposing of manure and the proper disposal of dead birds. These measures are intended to reduce the risk of odours, attraction of pests, and the spread of disease.

Hen keeping licenses are valid for one year, and can be revoked or not renewed subject to inspection, in addition to other bylaw penalties. Enforcement of the bylaw, along with licensing, is carried out by Enforcement Services.

Administration is currently working on finalizing the application process for this pilot project. I invite those interested in urban hen keeping to contact City Hall at 403-782-6666 for more information.

Steve Christie is the<span class="Apple-converted-spa