Is it time for backyard chickens at Lake Cowichan?
Becca Shears and her supporters think so.
Carrying signs they turned out to present the idea to Lake Cowichan council’s finance and administration committee on Aug. 11.
“As you know, a couple of years ago, my family and I went door to door and we got over 400 verified voter signatures from Town of Lake Cowichan residents for chickens,” Shears said. “I would say 80-85 per cent of the people that we asked to sign the petition did sign it.
“And I think with a new council, it’s a new time. We’ve had a lot of people for and against chickens and I hope this council revisits this issue and we amend the chicken bylaw for the Town of Lake Cowichan.”
Here, council chair Tim McGonigle interjected, “Let’s call it the Animal Control Bylaw.”
Shears wanted guidelines, though.
“The Town should allow chickens inside a really clear policy regulation that would allow for people who want these as pets or chickens as a food source, want to have them so they can have a sustainable community. Our official town plan says we should have the goal of being sustainable. And having chickens is a part of that.”
Shears said if council were “truly dedicated” to the idea of sustainability then councillors should allow citizens to “keep a small number of backyard hens” for the purpose of egg consumption.
She pointed out that many big cities like Victoria, Vancouver and even New York and Chicago and smaller B.C. communities like Duncan, Nanaimo and Port Alberni allow small scale raising of hens.
“I believe it’s Lake Cowichan’s turn to join this positive and growing trend.”
She said she saw this as reversing ideas that emerged after the Second World War when “many communities passed laws to distance people from then-unfashionable rural roots. In recent years, many of us have begun to realize that maintaining a close connection to our food supply is a positive choice.”
She also reminded councillors that a farmers market has been successfully introduced at Lake Cowichan.
“I believe there is a revival going on in this town. People are gardening more and they are more open and are ready for these old laws forbidding hens to be changed.”
The benefits are many, she said, listing “fresh, healthy homegrown eggs, free of pesticides, reduced municipal solid waste because composting is costing the Town money and table scraps and other organic waste can go to your chickens, reduced backyard pest population because hens consume weeds and bugs; there is also an opportunity to teach children about food sources and responsible animal care. And chickens are great pets.”
However, she said, old ideas die hard.
“Many Lake Cowichan residents have no experience with backyard and hens, and certainly not with those that are well taken care of. Noise, odour, disease and attraction of predators are the main reasons why people have said they don’t want them.
“Hens, not roosters, are quiet. We’re not asking for roosters. Predators such as coyotes, foxes and mink are a non issue if coops and runs are properly constructed and hens are confined to quarters during nighttime hours. As for pollution: unlike dog and cat waste, chicken waste can be transformed into fertilizer and re-used in gardens. We know that doesn’t happen with dog waste. And concerns about disease have all been dismantled now,” she said.
Shears said councillors should look at how well the idea is succeeding in other areas.
“Duncan has excellent regulations. If you don’t follow them you can’t keep chickens. It’s really quite simple. It’s working and I think it could work here.”
She said other people she has spoken to “just can’t believe that Lake Cowichan, of all places, doesn’t allow this.”
McGonigle explained that council doesn’t make decisions immediately following delegations.
Coun. Lorna Vomack asked how many people Shears thought currently kept chickens in Lake Cowichan.
“Unofficially, I know of over 40 residences myself,” she said, but added that since some of the people only had one chicken, the size of the coop or shed varied.
“Some of the people have neighbours who wish they didn’t have them, maybe because they have roosters but if we had a licensing process we would eliminate that,” Shears said.
Vomacka asked about plans by residents of Honeymoon Bay and Youbou and Shears said everyone was watching Lake Cowichan.
“I think if we do it successfully they will quickly follow.”
Duncan’s rules are tight and worth looking at, she said.
“The thing is most people won’t actually get chickens as a result of this. They just want other people to have the right to have them if they want. That’s what people who signed the petition said,” she said.
Mayor Ross Forrest asked how many complaints the Town office received over chickens and how many people have been told they have to get rid of them.
Administrator Joe Fernandez replied, “One or two. Basically, over the years, that’s all we’ve had.”
Shears said she was one who had to get rid of her birds because of a complaint from a neighbour, who was actually leaving dog food out overnight, about a possible rat in the area.
“I’ve never had evidence of rats in my coop. If you keep the coop clean, you don’t get rats,” she said.
A member of the delegation also pointed out that some Lake Cowichan residents buy large bags of seeds to put in feeders outside, a practice which can also attract rats.
Council then decided to refer any more discussion to the next finance and administration committee meeting, which will be held in September.