Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Minto Chicken Exemption

Connie, a long time resident in town of Clifford, part of the Municipality of Minto Ontario, can now apply (and hopefully receive) an exemption from the Exotic Animal By-law.  This will hopefully allow her family of 5 people to continue to enjoy and benefit from the fresh eggs from her 3 backyard chickens.

This Blog previously covered the struggles of Connie trying to keep her 3 backyard chickens for family egg supply (see here, and here).  The application form, photographs, letter to neighbours, City annual inspection and $50.00 per year license fee seems like a lot of bureaucracy to me for just 3 chickens, but it's a start.

You can read Minto's new chicken exemption By-law here.

Minto's CAO is pleased they have kept the bureaucracy to an absolute minimum.  I had quite a laugh at how the same words have such different meaning for two different people.

At least Minto has allowed an exemption that differentiates chickens from lions, bears, poisonous snakes, and other exotic animal.

Figure 1:  Which animal is least exotic and least dangerous than all the other exotic animals shown above?Minto Council studied carefully, and successfully answered the Exotic Animal Quiz, permitting the
obtaining of a safe and sane exemption for backyard chickens from this Municipal By-Law.
Below is the video of Minto Council when they discuss the options arising from the public consultation meeting on backyard chickens for the Municipality of Minto.  The backyard chickens discussion starts at 39 minutes, 55 seconds (video automatically starts at that point), and runs until 1:12:42, a total of

Here is a listing of the arguments used by Minto Council to shoot down Connie's request for backyard chickens, and Small Flockers response.

Concerns of Minto Council
Small Flocker’s Comments
Therapeutic Pets
Connie has her backyard chickens for the nutritional advantages, and the therapeutic psycho-social interactions between people and animals.  Council seems to accept this as soft emotional justification, but favours hard “facts”.

Just because something can be easily counted does not make it more important.
Somebody stated “chickens make no noise”, and this was properly rejected by Council.  I previously showed that 1 vs. whole flock of chickens isn’t much more noise.

Everybody seems to agree that with adequate separation, hens don’t produce excessive nor disruptive noise.
Somebody stated “chickens don’t smell”, and this was properly rejected by Council by saying any animal that produces 2 lbs. of poo per week will have a smell.  Everybody seems to agree that with adequate separation and proper compost management, hens don’t produce excessive nor disruptive smells.  Anaerobic rotting is very smelly, but high oxygen composting has minimal smells.  People regularly use manure on their lawns and gardens.  This isn’t specially regulated by municipality, why then is chicken manure a problem?
High Phosphorous manure
Council stated that chicken manure is high in phosphorous, causing composting to be killed.

Chicken manure is 2.7 times higher in Phosphorous as compared to cow manure.  I use wood shavings in my chicken coop as litter, source of carbon for composting, and get a high heat composting of the chicken litter.  Perhaps if someone tried “composting” 100% chicken manure it would fail, but that isn’t composting if your C:N:K:P balances are off.

Chicken manure readily and easily composts, and produces excellent natural fertilizer.  All manures smell, and chicken is far less of a nuisance than swine or beef for bad or excessive odors.
Predators (skunks, raccoons, weasels, etc.)
Council raised issue of skunks attracted into urban areas by eggs and hens.

Council acknowledged that skunks, raccoons, etc. are already in Minto urban areas, removel of all backyard chickens will not likely reduce urban predators, but it is unknown if backyard chickens would cause urban predators to increase.

Chickens need to be protected from predators, and owners naturally do this via chicken coops and/or chicken wire pens.

If it becomes a problem, Council can always act when that risk arises.  There is little sense to legislate every possible risk, or prohibit based on all possible negatives that might occur.
Health risks (bacteria, viruses, worms), 60 diseases carried by chickens.

Bird flu risks and costs
Yes, like all living creatures, chickens carry, contain, or excrete bacteria, viruses, and/or worms.  Council also stated that chickens carry 60 different diseases.

I suggest there may be 60 major diseases, but many more minor ones.  Biosecurity precautions need to be taken for chickens, similar to pregnant women that could be exposed to Toxoplasmosis by a cat litter box, or ring worm from a dog’s droppings.

Council suggested a commercial chicken farmer would never wear their barn clothes or boots off-farm due to biohazard risks.  I would agree, as CAFO chicken farms are a biosecurity powderkeg due to wild pathogens that could enter the farm and kill massive numbers of chickens.

The risk is significantly less with backyard chickens.  For example, there are about 20 to 50 times more small flocks than CAFO chicken factories.  However in N. America, about 85% of all avian influenza cases are on CAFO chicken factories, indication CAFO chicken factories are about 42 times greater biosecurity risk than backyard chickens (50*0.85= 42)
Better nutrition from small flock eggs
Council mentioned that Connie claimed this, but it was rejected as Council could not find any source to substantiate this claim.

Mother Earth News had free range and backyard chicken eggs tested by accredited labs, and found that there are significant nutritional advantages, up to 7 times more, from non-CAFO factory eggs (see )
Hens less disruptive than dogs & cats
While Council agreed with this statement, they dismissed it because dogs & cats are an accepted part of urban life.

If a particular dog is creating a nuisance, the city will soon receive a complaint, then they can act based on that complaint.  The same can be said about a chicken nuisance.
Enforcement of By-law
Council was worried about the potential red tape and cost of By-law enforcement.

The more complicated it is made, the greater the risk of someone discovering a work-around.  I had previously suggested deleting “chicken” from the exotic animal By-law, thereby extracting the municipality from the issue, cost, and risk.
Keep it Simple
Council wants to keep it simple.

Unfortunately, the proposed chicken exemption application form is onerous, long, and complicated, has a $50/yr fee, and annual inspections in perpetuity.  Few backyard chicken wanna-be’s would go through this long process, especially with no guarantee of success.
Kids & animal benefits
Council recognized the benefit of getting kids involved at a young age with animals, far better than cell phones, video games, or TV.

Council suggested no urban chicken is necessary, as the urban resident can ask a farmer to keep the urban resident’s chickens at a nearby farm.

I know of nobody doing that today, likely because it’s not readily feasible
Farmer vs. urban divide, Expectations of people who move to Town
Council noted that farming should stay on farm land, and high density commercial and residential areas should be separate and apart from farms.

Urban planning based on highly structured separation of uses and buffer zones was the standard in the 1940’s.  Today, modern planning is based on multi-use so that an individual can be born, grow, school, eat, work, play, retire, get medical treatment, and most other activities of life while remaining on the same city block or neighbourhood.

This more modern concept of urban planning favours urban food production via gardens and backyard chickens.
Neighbour gets coop
Council said they would be most concerned is a neighbour got a coop.

Fear is almost always the natural outcome of ignorance.

However, By-laws and Councils should not be fearful reactions to all the potential risks in this world.  By-laws should restrict themselves to real, significant risks, not fears and phobias.
Animal welfare

Omnivore chickens need protein & vegetables
Council was concerned about animal welfare.

Previously, Council accepted that backyard chickens are somewhat family pets, above and beyond a cold farming business transaction for eggs.  It seems reasonable that family pets would likely be better cared for than mere farm animals.

Most backyard chickens receive kitchen scraps in addition to their regular chicken feed, and can hunt backyard bugs as well.
Mixed message to those currently non-compliant to Exotic Animal By-law
The Exotic Animal By-law has been in place for some time.  Those who wish can apply for an exemption.  Until they apply, and the application is accepted, then they are prohibited from having backyard chickens.
Hormones in eggs
Council rejects the argument than backyard eggs are hormone-free, as all eggs and meats in Canada are free from artificially added hormones.

There are numerous reports of drugs, chemicals, vaccinations, antibiotics, and other additives that are fed to commercial chickens (eg. caffeine, Gravol, antihistamines, anti-depressants, dyes, painkillers, etc.).  Any one of these additives are of questionable health effects that should be accepted as sufficient reasons to shun commercial CAFO chicken factory eggs.
Enforcement of By-law (active/aggressive vs. Complaint & Request)
Council was concerned about the cost and loss of tranquility by being forced into an adversarial role of By-law enforcement for backyard chickens.

Council admitted that most citizens supported backyard chickens, and only a few voices spoke against it.  It is suggested that good governance occurs when the majority gets their wish, provided the rights of the minorities are protected.
Unknown risks and effects from urban chickens
Council admitted that they have no way of knowing all of the potential or likely risks that may occur.

Council also mentioned that if any issue subsequently comes to light, they can then examine that issue, and all By-laws can be repealed.
Large land area needed to break parasite cycle
Council felt that a 1.5 acre lot could successfully handle a small backyard flock, as the pastured area could be adequately rotated so that excessive parasite loading from over-use of the same ground would not occur.

Rotational grazing is far superior, but is not always feasible.  There might be just a few lots within the municipal limits that have interested owners and a lot size of 1.5 acres or more.  By placing multiple mandatory requirements that are too restrictive, an enabling & permissive By-laws is mutated into a restrictive By-laws for which there is no feasible implementation.

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