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Nothing to fear from chickens

The city’s improved plan for chickens is something to crow about.

This week, Red Deer city council agreed to extend the urban hen project for another 12 months.

New rules oblige chicken owners to register their flock with City Hall, but there’s no fee attached.

City administration just wants to keep tabs on how many chickens there are in town and where they are.

This approach reflects an abundance of caution, after the city bike-lane project pressed ahead too far and too fast for many residents.

Council’s go-slow strategy on this file should ensure that they are not tarred and feathered come election day in October.

After a year of testing, barely a cluck has been heard about captive chickens in Red Deer neighbourhoods.

About 20 families have raised them, the city says.

There has only been one complaint, which was addressed swiftly.

Two offending roosters were promptly removed.

City regulations — then, now and going forward — forbid roosters in town for obvious reasons. They are raucously loud at certain times of the day, and just don’t fit in an urban setting.

Hens are generally quiet, docile and — when properly managed — quite clean.

That’s more than you can say for scores of other pets that run loose through Red Deer.

For starters, hens must be penned in enclosures covering all four sides plus the top.

That’s a reasonable request at every level.

It keeps the hens in and the most deadly varmints out.

It’s much less than the city demands from dog owners, but far more than for cat fanciers.

Red Deer owners must buy a $26 annual licence for an “altered dog” and $56 for one that’s not spayed.

Dog owners also face fines of $250, $500 and $750 for first, second and third violations of the city licence act.

Cat owners get off licence-fee free, and pay fines 88 per cent to 96 per cent lower when their pets are caught running wild than dog owners do.

Most seriously, free-range cats are notorious killers. Two years ago, The New York Times reported that up to 500 million birds are killed by cats in the United States each year.

Half of that death toll was attributed to pet cats, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

The cat-kill was estimated to be 1,250 times higher than the number of birds killed by electricity-generating wind turbines.

By 2030, when American turbines become more accepted and numerous — as they are in Alberta, including a wind farm east of Red Deer — the U.S. bird-kill gap is projected to be about 600 times higher than the current death toll to cats.

Closer to home, the Canadian Wildlife Federation estimated in 2011 that 140 million birds and small animals are killed by cats in Canada each year.

If that number is right, if only half of those kills are made by cats, and half of them are wild, that amounts to 400 Canadian birds slain by pets every minute.

Pet hens, by comparison, are positively benign.

More forward-thinking Canadian cities are allowing urban chickens.

My niece and her husband raised hens in suburban Victoria for several years, until they got too old to lay eggs.

The chickens were great.

Their young son loved them and so did close neighbours, who received a steady supply of fantastic free eggs.

In the downtown area where I live, a neighbour up the street kept hens for a few years, with little static.

Today, the city of Red Deer is ahead of the Alberta curve.

Urban chickens are not yet permitted in either Calgary or Edmonton.

I expect that will soon change in both cities, as people become more aware of the positive reward-risk balance.

The willingness to give urban chickens a place in Red Deer reflects both a backward and forward-looking stance.

We owe much of our heritage and huge swaths of our wealth to farming.

Despite a population approaching 100,000, Red Deer is still small enough that you can be travelling through farm land within a 10-minute drive from almost any part of the city.

We’re still close to the land, and home-grown food is increasingly and properly prized. It helps turn the 100-mile diet into a 100-foot diet.

So let the chicken plan roll forward for another 12 months.

Chance are high that next March when policy is reviewed, few Red Deer residents will cackle that city council laid an egg.

Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.



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