Once dogs and cats were seen as strictly working farm animals. This perception has changed. Dogs and cats are now viewed as companion household pets.
The Gallus gallus domesticus (chicken) is a domesticated bird that has been kept in urban settings up until the mid 1900’s. Only within “the past few decades” have hens been removed from cities, to farms (Pollock, et. al, 2012, 734).
Today, over 100 North American municipalities encourage raising backyard hens including Victoria, Guelph, Niagara Falls, San Diego, Seattle, Portland and New York
As with any animal, hens or coops can smell if they are not properly cared for. A hen that is properly cared for is just as clean as a well cared for dog or cat. A coop that is properly ventilated and cleaned will not smell.
3) How do you deal with excrement?
Hen droppings make excellent compost, especially when combined with materials high in carbon (leaves, pine shavings, & straw which are often used for bedding). Use your nose; if it starts to smell, add more carbon.
4) Are hens noisy?
No. Unlike dogs which tend to bark if they see or hear another animal, hens are a “prey” species that stay still and quiet in response to a perceived threat or unusual situation. Some hens sing a short ‘egg song’ after laying. Hens sleep through the night once the sun sets. Traffic, dogs barking, lawn mowers, and children playing all rank higher in decibel levels than hens (see appendix C). Roosters are noisy. WUCA suggests roosters be prohibited.
5) Do you need to have a rooster for a hen to lay eggs?
No. Without a rooster, hens will still lay. Roosters are only needed for fertile eggs. Non-fertile eggs are as nutritious as fertile eggs.
6) At what age do hens start laying eggs?
Typically hens will start to lay when they are 5- 6 months of age.
7) How long do hens lay eggs?
Peak production generally occurs at two years of age and slowly declines thereafter. For this reason it is good practice to vary the ages of your hens so that the older hens may “retire” while the younger ones continue to produce eggs. “Heritage breeds lay less- frequent, larger eggs after their peek laying years” (May, 2012).
8) How long do chickens live?
Typical life expectancy for a BYH is 5 – 10 years depending on care and predator protection.
9) Should you have more than one hen?
Yes. Chickens have a strong need for socialization (LaBadie, 2008) and maintain a hierarchical social structure, similar to dogs and other pack/flock animals. Hens generate body heat and huddle together to conserve energy during Winnipeg winters. For both these reasons, WUCA recommends keeping a 4- 6 hens at a time, which is the most common number of hens allowed in other North American municipalities (LaBadie, 2008).
10) Will BYH attract rodents?
No. Rodents are already present within our city Rodents can be attracted to spilled or unsecured chicken feed, just as they can be attracted to spilled or unsecured dog or cat food, wild bird seed, koi ponds, or garbage. Chicken feed should be stored in rodent & weather proof containers with securely fitted lids. Coops should also be rodent-proofed with ¼ inch gauge hardware cloth (not chicken wire). Additionally, Hens eat mice and can help control rodent populations in cities.
11) Isn’t Winnipeg too cold for BYH?
No. Hens fare better in colder climates than in the heat (Ussery, 2011). Some breeds – like the Canadian Chantecler – were developed specifically to withstand harsh northern winters (ALBC, 2012, Henderson, 2012). Today, BYH are kept in many cold winter cities including Chicago, Illinois and Anchorage, Alaska. Coops are insulated & runs are tarped for winter.
12) Will BYH bring health risks?
Health risks can result from handling hens or anything in the areas they occupy. The same is true when handling other pets such as cats or dogs (Polloc, et. al., 2012). Specifically, chickens may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies even though they appear healthy. Salmonella can make people sick with diarrhea, fever, vomiting and/or abdominal cramps (CDC, 2012). The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recognizes that backyard flocks can provide a safe source of eggs, and has published a variety of online resources including posters, videos, and detailed information for Canadians wishing to keep small flocks
13) But what about Avian Flu?
“[T]he perceived risk of AI [Avian Influenza] from backyard flocks is probably overestimated due in part to media attention on this issue” (Pollock, et.al., 2012, 737-8)
“Bird flu does not evolve to highly pathogenic forms in backyard poultry operations, where low-density and genetic diversity keep the viral load to low levels. Backyard poultry are the victims of bird flu strains brought in from elsewhere. […] It is in crowded and confined industrial poultry operations that bird flu, like other diseases, rapidly evolves and amplifies” (GRAIN, 2006, 8)
“Inferences from data on Asian backyard chicken flocks must be made cautiously as social and environmental conditions, and thus exposure routes and transmission, may vary greatly from North America. Similarly, risks in commercial flocks, including risks to poultry workers, may not be representative of those in backyard flocks and their keepers due to differing circumstances” (Pollock, et.al, 2012, 736).
“Health authorities in Canada consider the risk of H5N1 reaching North America, or other HPAI subtypes spreading among backyard hens, to be extremely limited, particularly if biosecurity measures, such as those recommended by the CFIA, are followed” (City of Vancouver, 2010, 9, emphasis added).
14) Will BYH burden Animal Services?
WUCA is aware of Animal Services concern that amending a Bylaw to allow for city hens would result in increased workload. We see this barrier in supporting the Bylaw change as valid, and worthy of discussion, as we, too are committed to the wellbeing of urban hens.
BYH can easily be kept in conditions that meet and exceed the highest standards set forth in the Poultry Layers Code of Practice (PLCP), published by the National Farm Animal Care Council and written by the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council (2003). The PLCP has no enforcement provisions, thus a new or amended Bylaw (similar to the existing pigeon control Bylaw) that regulates the care of BYH could provide high assurance of chicken safety and care. Such a bylaw would fall in line with and support the Winnipeg Humane Society’s call for more humane treatment of livestock and allow hens to exhibit natural behaviours such as spread their wings, scratch, dust bathe, preen, etc.
15) Won’t neighbours be opposed to BYH?
Research shows that where hens are allowed, neighbors are supportive, and are not inconvenienced either by excessive sound levels or smell: “Half of them felt that the project was a “resounding success”. Another 29% felt the project had mitigated results and another 7% said they didn’t know. Those who said the project had mitigated results qualified their answer by saying that the project should be considered a success if the city imposes a strict regulatory framework to govern the keeping of chickens within city boundaries” (Post Carbon Greater Moncton, 2010, 13).
Winnipeg by-laws presently exist to address smell, noise, and responsible care of pets (the pound Bylaw, the pigeon control Bylaw). Just as neighbours can report noise, smell or inadequate pet-care complaints of dogs or cats, they would be able to report such concerns related to BYH using the same system currently in place.
Neigbour consent is not required to keep dogs, mow lawns, or allow children to play outdoors – all of which rank louder than hens on a decibel scale (see appendix C). Thus, neighbour consent should not be required to keep hens, unless such consent is required for the fore mentioned sources of urban noise pollution.