Backyard chicken debate returns to Smiths Falls council

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A proposal to allow backyard chickens was met with positivity around the horseshoe on Monday, April 22 at the Smiths Falls regular council meeting.

The last time council visited this notion was in 2018, but it didn’t fly too far.

Danny Radford, a Newfoundland native who has lived in Smiths Falls for the past four years, presented his idea to council. He’s an avid gardener, growing over 600 pounds of produce annually. In Newfoundland, he also raised chickens as a teenager, he said.

Radford said he’d like to see an amendment to the animal control bylaw to allow residents to keep up to six backyard chickens (no roosters). They would be laying hens only.

Radford spoke of the benefits of having a garden in this time of food insecurity, and having chickens would elevate food sources. Not only would allowing chickens help build community, but it would also give the chickens a better quality of life and a sense of accomplishment for the owners.

“On average, a chicken can consume 6.9 pounds of food (residuals) per month, or 83 pounds per hen,” he said. “If 1,000 households had six chickens that would be 498,000 pounds of diverted food residuals,” he said.

Or it could save the town about $25,000 in tipping fees per ton annually.

Radford also spoke of the average household income in Smiths Falls being $42,400, or 22 per cent below the national average, and 24.8 per cent below the provincial average.

“Smiths Falls is an at-risk municipality,” he said. “Removal of barriers to self-sufficiency should be made where possible.”

He said chickens lay 150 to 300 eggs per year and can be fed with little to no cost.

Carleton Place has had a maximum of six hens permitted since 2021 at a cost of $100.

Rideau Lakes has a bylaw dated 2019 that permits up to 10 chickens.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said he made a “compelling case.”

Excluding roosters would make things a lot easier, the mayor said, as that may have been one of the issues six years ago – along with staff management of the issue.

Pankow said his grandparents settled here over 100 years ago, raised nine kids, and relied heavily on their garden, and poultry, “whatever it took to feed their own family,” he said.
There is value in having greater food independence, whether it’s through a garden or backyard chickens, the mayor said.

“If permitted, there is still a responsibility for bylaw staff to have to try to manage it,” Pankow said, as he would like to see staff do some research on the proposal.

“Are there examples out there and how would we apply those examples to our community?”

The mayor said it would be his preference to see this come to a future committee meeting for further discussion with the help of a staff report.

Coun. Chris McGuire said there was a strong social and environmental argument for it.

“But I think of the feral cat program we have in Smiths Falls … Just from my experience, chickens are less disruptive than dogs or cats or other pets that are normally accepted in the municipality.”

McGuire said he’d like to see staff come up with a one-year trial comparing the documents from 2018 with Radford’s presentation, “and see how it will work in Smiths Falls.”

Coun. Peter McKenna said he liked how Radford is “thinking globally and acting locally” as it fits along with his line of thought.

“I think your timing is very good. I would really want to entertain this sooner rather than later. I don’t think it should be a pilot. I have enough information and background – having been a farmer for quite a while – I’m very comfortable encouraging us to get going on this. I think we’re 10 years behind the times.”

Coun. Jay Brennan, who was on council in 2018, said there were some details from the health unit he’d like to revisit.

“There is concern … and I’d like to get that readdressed by the health unit. And I’d also like to get feedback from staff in terms of administration of this. I’d like to give it some time so my phone can ring from my constituents.”

Coun. Dawn Quinn said she saw some red flags.

“Feral cats were mentioned. Guess who’s created the problem with feral cats? Humans who don’t want to look after them. So that is a big concern. The same with, who will have to monitor the chickens? And how many you will have in the yard. That will come down to our bylaw. That’s another issue and another expense for the town.”

She said she’s not saying Radford’s idea is wrong, “I’m just saying there are a lot of concerns here that have to be looked at.”

Pankow said they’re not the first ones walking down this road, and they don’t need a pilot project.

“I think there are a few concerns that are needed to be addressed … and education. A majority of people may not know where to begin. How to build a coop, where do you get your chicks, and how do you raise them? We want to make sure there is a pathway to success.

“My preference would be for staff to research this and come back with a program – what it’s going to cost from an enforcement standpoint, a fee structure we should have, restrictions … all these factors have to be considered as to what would be appropriate.”

Council supported the mayor’s recommendation.

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