by Colin Smith
Will the chickens come home to roost in Morinville?
That’s what Amy Taylor would like to see.
Taylor is hoping a new animal control bylaw being considered by Town Council will authorize Morinville residents to raise chickens in their backyards.
The bylaw to regulate dogs, cats and domestic animals, Bylaw 22/2015, was given first reading by Council Oct. 27. Council members then voted to hold a public hearing on the bylaw, which will take place Nov. 24.
Drafting of the bylaw follows a Council review of the issue on June 15.
The proposed legislation mentions chickens in passing and prohibits keeping domestic or non-domestic animals (except dogs, cats, and fish) without Town approval. But it sets out conditions for issuing special exemptions that could allow backyard chickens.
“Unique animal ownership is a growing trend and has been in the news,” said William Norton, supervisor of bylaw enforcement for Morinville. “We feel that we need to be sympathetic to this trend and allow it where we have the means to do so but also be able to control it where it is necessary to do so.”
Norton stated the proposed bylaw leaves open the possibility of ownership for any domesticated and non-domesticated animals to be raised in Town, including chickens. However every animal, domesticated or not, will require a permit.
“At this point anyone can apply for a permit but granting one is not automatic,” he pointed out. “Permit approvals will be granted only for those animals that do not pose a risk to others and are something that Town Administration is in a position to manage.”
The interest in raising chickens in towns and cities has developed in recent years along with concerns about food sustainability and sourcing.
Taylor points to Alberta communities including Red Deer, Peace River and High River that have adopted policies permitting the practice, along with the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Taylor’s interest in the topic began a couple of years ago after her daughter brought it up following a farm visit. She began doing research, which she has shared with Town of Morinville officials and applied to Council for an amendment to the current animal control bylaw to enable chicken raising.
As well as providing a source of fresh eggs, Taylor sees raising chickens as an educational experience for her five children.
“There’s a large learning component,” she said. “I’m looking to teach my kids about egg production and taking care of an animal, ensuring the chickens have a clean, safe environment.”
Her middle daughter, Madison, is in Girl Guides and hopes the chickens can be part of a learning involvement project for the group.
Objections to urban chickens are often made on the basis that they are noisy and smelly, but for Taylor there is not much difference between taking care of the birds and taking care of dogs.
“We have three dogs — there’s dog’s pooping,” she said. “It’s just the responsibility of the owner to take care of it. And the kennels have to be clean for the dogs.
“[Besides], I’m talking about five or six chickens, not 50 or 60.”
Taylor acknowledges that there would have to be rules and regulations for backyard chickens. In fact, she sees the necessity of seeking special exemptions as set out in the proposed as a good idea.
Home chicken slaughtering would probably be prohibited, and roosters would also likely not be allowed.
“I think that this would actually benefit the town so that we don’t allow people who don’t put the effort into applying for these permits to take ‘owning a unique animal’ seriously,” she declared. “I believe it would decrease the number of irrational ownership and put more responsibility on the owner for raising chickens or any other type of animal for that matter.
“Owning an animal should never be a flight-of-the-moment idea and taking the time and effort to apply for a special exemption permit shows the town that these people are willing to properly care for these animals.”
David Schaefer, Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations, said the change in the bylaw has mostly been a result of local requests, as well as changes being seen in other communities.
“The new proposed bylaw allows for some flexibilities that provided for consideration of new trends or opportunities,” he said, adding applications for permits would be carefully considered.
“We will be looking at best practices based on the type of request being made. It will also require consultation of the applicant with their neighbors, and responses received may affect the outcome of the application request.”
The permitting system will place conditions on applicants to ensure that the ownership of an animal such as a chicken is manageable.
Conditions may include housing and shelter requirements, the maximum number of animals, special insurance or anything else that is reasonable to ensure that the neighborhood is not negatively affected.
“Permits by their nature can also be revoked if the applicant is not complying or the system is inherently not working,” Norton said. “Enforcement Services will be inspecting sites and monitoring complaints closely to ensure compliance with permit conditions.”
While domestic animals have not been a problem in the past it is important for the Town to know and understand what animals are present in the community, he indicated.
“Knowing what kind of animals and roughly what numbers will allow us to better plan and thereby react in cases of emergencies,” he said. “This will help ensure that animals receive the proper care and are returned home to their proper owners.”
Taylor sees the backyard chicken raising that the bylaw as a definite plus for Morinville.
“It’s good for a community that’s growing just to have the ability to say this is available here, and we’re able to do it,” she said.
The Nov. 24 hearing on the Animal Control Bylaw will be held in Council Chambers at 7:30 p.m. Questions or written comments can be directed to Town of Morinville Legislative Officer Jennifer Maskoske before 4:30 p.m. that day.