People often have misconceptions about chicken care and behaviour. Read on for answers to some common questions about hens, and refer to our fact sheet for additional information including details of current municipal by-laws.
1. Why do we need a by-law? A number of people are keeping chickens in the city illegally. By some estimates, there are as many as 300 coops in the city. Other people would like to have chickens, but would only want to get them if it were legal. The benefit of a by-law is that it makes room for the choice and independence people are looking to have over their food production, while putting in place rules around how it can be done. In other words, instead of ignoring chickens and only responding to it when a complaint has been made, it sets standards on lot sizes, where chickens can be kept on a lot, maximum numbers of birds, coop construction, and standards of care. Having a by-law has the benefit of responding to an issue, while also regulating it.
2. Are chickens a public health hazard? The short answer is no, because it really comes down to effective management that mitigates health concerns. The main public health concerns related to raising chickens are the potential for disease transmission and the potential to attract pests. In a small-scale backyard context, health authorities in Canada consider the risk of avian flu spreading among backyard hens to be extremely limited.
Of more concern is the potential for bacterial contamination and transmission of Salmonella. Poultry commonly harbour Salmonella, both in backyard contexts and in commercial farms. Typically Salmonella doesn't make chickens sick. However, these bacteria are pathogenic to humans and can be passed into an egg from an infected chicken, or, more commonly, the bacteria can be on the outside of a shell egg. That's why health authorities recommend cooking eggs or raw chicken thoroughly. This reduces the risk of getting sick from Salmonella, whether it be from commercially produced eggs, or eggs from a backyard. The potential for Salmonella transmission to humans is limited when backyard flocks are small, eggs are not sold or distributed for commercial purposes, and good hygiene practices are followed.
3. What do chickens sound like? Like most animals, chickens make some amount of noise. Only roosters make the crowing sound, and this can happen at any time throughout the day—not just at sunrise. Roosters are usually prohibited within municipalities that allow backyard chickens.
Hens usually cluck softly, but will squawk during or shortly after laying an egg, or if frightened. At most, chickens generally lay one egg a day. Compared with other common pets, squawking is relatively quiet. The average decibel level of hens is roughly 63 dBA, while a barking dog may register at over 100 dBA. Chickens are regulated by daylight; by the time the sun goes down, they are headed for the coop or are already fast asleep.
To minimize noise, city by-laws typically limit the number of birds, and specify minimum setbacks from property lines and adjacent dwellings.
4. What do chickens smell like? Healthy chickens themselves do not smell bad; it's only their feces that have the potential to create odour--and that's also true of dogs, cats, rabbits or any outdoor animal. Chicken coops are typically dressed with natural, fresh-smelling materials like straw and pine shavings, and are equipped with proper ventilation to neutralize odour. Again, this issue simply comes down to maintenance protocols and best practices. With routine cleaning and proper care, coops are relatively easy to clean and maintain in dry, sanitary conditions.
There are steps that urban chicken keepers take to reduce the chances of odours even further. Some owners prefer to spread sand over the run, where the chickens spend most of their day. It wicks away moisture, eliminating odour and the attraction of flies, and dries out manure in the same way that cat litter does. More often than not, a neighbour will hardly notice an off-putting smell from the chicken coop.
5. What about rodents and predators? Like many household pets, chickens and their feed can attract predators and pests. Chickens must be provided with a hygienic living space and a fully enclosed coop and run. With the care of any animal, improper food storage has the potential to invite unwanted critters, including squirrels, wild birds and mice. Storing feed in dry, weather-proof containers will greatly reduce the potential for attracting rodents. A secure enclosure for the chickens will keep predators out and your happy chickens snuggled in.
6. How long can a chicken live? Chickens can live as long as a dog or cat: up to 14 years or longer!
7. 14 years?! Suppose that backyard chicken keeping is just a fad... Where will all these chickens end up in a year from now? More and more, people want to connect with their food sources, and an increasing number of municipalities allow for backyard chickens. As well, raising backyard chickens in higher population density areas is nothing new, it just disappeared for awhile. Prior to the 1960s, it was common to see small animals such as chickens and rabbits being raised within the city. A trend is now shifting back to one rooted in sustainability, education and community food security.
8. How long do hens lay, and what do people do with them when they stop? Hens begin to lay eggs at about 6 months of age. Domesticated hens have been bred to lay one egg a day, but at around 18 months of age, egg laying frequency generally diminishes. Many adult or senior hens stop laying altogether. When egg production ceases, hen owners may continue to keep the hens as pets, choose home slaughter or euthanasia, or donate them to a willing farmer.
Often times, people are motivated to get chickens because they want to make sure their eggs are coming from chickens that live happy lives, with space to roost and peck at the ground, and other chickens to mingle with. Chickens are also thought of as "productive pets", meaning that people want to ensure their hens are well taken care of.
9. If backyard chickens are permitted in urban areas of the City of Thunder Bay, will I be allowed to build a chicken coop anywhere on my property? The short answer to this is, no! Jurisdictions that allow urban chickens have by-laws with mandatory requirements for coop location and minimum setbacks from property lines. Chickens will also be required to live in pens.
10. Will my neighbour’s chickens decrease my property value? While some people are concerned about this, economic conditions are the driving forces of property values. Municipal by-laws are developed with the interests of neighbours in mind, ensuring that coop design, placement and cleanliness follow measures to minimize concerns related to noise, potential odour and aesthetic appeal.
In many cities that allow chickens--Kelowna, Waterloo, Vancouver, Kingston, and Huntsville, for example--property values have been on the rise for years.
If anything, backyard chickens help bring people together--you'll be surprised at who comes out of the woodwork in your neighbourhood if you have them. And if you're stuck in conversation, you'll never have to resort to talking about the weather again: chickens are just a naturally fun topic of discussion!
11. What will the uptake be if chickens become legal in urban parts of Thunder Bay? If a by-law is passed locally, the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy, in partnership with the City of Thunder Bay, will provide educational material and resources to help prospective chicken owners successfully transition into backyard chicken keeping.
The fact is that only a small number of residents are likely to start keeping backyard chickens, relative to our city's total population. For instance, the City of Vancouver has a population of more than 600,000--but only has 220 registered coops. Minneapolis has 350 coops among a population of more than 400,000. Add those figures together, and it works out to about 1 coop for every 1,750 people.
12. What are other jurisdictions doing that support backyard chickens? Kingston, Guelph, Kelowna, Portland, Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Minneapolis join a growing number of cities across North America that support backyard chicken keeping. Even in high-density neighbourhoods, chickens can be kept in a yard so inconspicuously, it may not be obvious that they’re around.
In summary, most municipalities that allow backyard chickens impose maximum flock numbers and require minimum care standards and setbacks from adjacent property lines. Some cities require a permit or registration system, while other by-laws are strictly enforced on a complaint basis. The average flock size ranges from 4 to 10 birds in municipalities that support backyard chicken keeping. With sensible guidelines in place, these are often enough to keep neighbourhood complaints to a minimum.
Check out the following links to learn what other cities are doing with backyard chickens:
13. How do other pets react to chickens? The addition of a few hens is sure to turn some heads in the neighbourhood—especially those of household pets. The good news is that chickens can successfully coexist with other animals. A secure enclosure not only prevents birds from escaping, but ensures that uninvited guests can't come in. Both cats and dogs can be inquisitive spectators, and that's often enough to satisfy their curiosity. However, some animals may feel the urge to chase or harm chickens. Knowing the animals that live around your property and those of your neighbours will help you assess how well chickens can integrate into your neighbourhood. Sudden scares or constant harassment by surrounding animals could lead to stressful chickens, and cause them to stop laying altogether.
14. How would urban chickens affect our city resources like by-law enforcement and animal control? Backyard chickens typically won’t cause much of a ruckus if proper care, maintenance and by-law procedures are followed by their caregivers. Even the City of Vancouver, which has more than six times the population of Thunder Bay, receives only 20 chicken-related complaints per year on average. In 2013, of the 34,000 animal-related calls made to Vancouver City services, only 15 were for chickens. According to one animal control officer, no fines have been issued since the City began permitting chickens in 2009, and most complaints have been unfounded.
15. Can I keep chickens if they're pets? Under certain conditions, there are areas within the City of
Thunder Bay where a “personal farm” is permitted. If your property falls within the Rural Zones 1 and 2, you may be allowed to keep up to 20 chickens. Chickens are not currently permitted in any other property zones, so if you live in any Urban property zone, you cannot legally keep chickens in the City of Thunder Bay for any use, including pets. Details can be found in Chapter 232 of the City of Thunder Bay's Municipal Code.