OLDS — The rules for keeping chickens in Olds were expected to come before council yesterday after councillors debated them for close to an hour last week.
Council considered proposed amendments to two bylaws which would govern the raising of chickens in the community: the Land Use Bylaw (LUB) and the Community Standards Bylaw (CSB).
Councillors Heather Ryan and Mary Jane Harper expressed concern about the size that chicken coops could be under the LUB. Under that bylaw they can cover 10 square metres, including an egg-laying area and an outdoor area.
Harper raised concern that they can be set up in R3 land use districts, which include fourplexes, town houses and apartment buildings in some cases.
“I do have a concern over that when you look at the size of the lot for a fourplex unit. It’s very small to begin with and I’m not sure the neighbours would really appreciate having a chicken coop in their neighbours’ backyard because the lot itself is so small already,” she said.
Planner Natasha Wright of Parkland Planning Services said they would only be allowed in the yards of detached homes in those areas – not fourplexes or apartment buildings.
Wright said the bylaw is based on similar bylaws in other municipalities and a size limit of 10 square metres appears to be pretty common in those communities.
She noted that under the regulations, proposals for housing and raising chickens would go to the municipal planning commission and decisions rendered by that body could be appealed by adjacent landowners.
Community services director Doug Wagstaff told council that under proposed changes to the CSB, residents would only be allowed to raise a total of six chickens -- hens – no roosters.
Those raising chickens would not be allowed to slaughter them nor could they sell the eggs or any other products derived from the chickens such as manure or meat.
Wagstaff noted the bylaw was crafted from information received during consultations with the community and after researching chicken-raising bylaws in other communities.
“We’ve kept it so it’s simple, enforceable and understandable,” he said.
There was debate between councillors over whether those wishing to raise chickens should first be required to take courses on how to do so and provide proof that they’ve done so.
Some said they shouldn’t have to because that’s not required for people who own dogs, cats or lizards. But others, like Ryan and Harper, said they should.
“It should be a requirement because I don’t think people should be jumping in with both feet without having some kind of educational background on what they’re getting into,” Ryan said, noting other municipalities have that requirement.
Coun. Debbie Bennett said they could be mentored by others – a “friends of the hens group” perhaps, who have experience doing so.
Coun. Mitch Thomson wondered why the ban on selling eggs, etc.
“I’m not convinced that a parent couldn’t have a little chicken operation with their children, right? I would love to teach my kids to become entrepreneurs,” he said.
“And while (raising) chickens isn’t the route I would take, if somebody wanted to sell a few eggs at the farmers' market, we’re an agricultural community and I would like to see some of those things supported.”
Wagstaff said bylaws in other communities don’t allow that in order to keep the emphasis on personal use and not “high-intensity agriculture or even medium-intensity agriculture.”
Harper echoed that thought.
To avoid a surplus of eggs, “only have two chickens then,” she said.
“I don’t want people thinking that they could get into urban chickens to raise money for themselves,” Harper added.
“If they want to get into the farming business, go get an acreage or a farm and let them go raise their chickens and their pigs and their sheep.”
Harper suggested limiting the number of chicken-raising licences issued, noting other communities like Red Deer have done that.
“This is something new and I think we need to start slowly. I know we already have a few illegal urban chicken places out there,” Harper said, noting that in Red Deer, the idea behind limiting the number of licences is to gauge how receptive the community is to having them.
“We don’t believe that there’s going to be a large influx. That was our perception within administration,” Wagstaff said.
Coun. Wanda Blatz wondered if people who are already raising chickens would be grandfathered under the bylaw.
Wagstaff said once they’re approved under the LUB they can apply for a licence to raise chickens and by the time they take out or renew that licence they would have to be fully compliant with it.
Coun. Heather Ryan asked if the town’s bylaw officers are trained to deal with health and safety issues and bylaw infractions regarding people raising chickens.
Not yet, said senior peace officer Eric Christensen.
“We would have to look at getting some type of training. I would have to arrange that through Olds College or KFC or something, I don’t know,” he said with a short laugh.