Blackfalds residents appear to be warming up to the idea of urban hens.
A public survey was run from March 20 to May 1 to gauge support for backyard chickens. Of the 1,213 responses, 756 — 62 per cent — were in favour of allowing urban hens. There were 457 against the idea.
Asked if they supported a two-year pilot project, 731 said yes and 209 were not in favour.
Support for urban hens has grown considerably since the idea was put to residents first in 2019. At that time, survey respondents were almost exactly evenly split for and against.
It was proposed at that time that the town consider a one-year pilot project starting in May 2020 as long as there were at least 22 pre-applications to support. Council decided not to go ahead at that time.
A local group has been actively lobbying for an urban hen program. Urban hen supporters spoke to a council committee of the whole meeting in January and asked them to reconsider following the lead of other communities, such as Red Deer and Lacombe.
Based on the latest show of support for hens, town planning staff is recommending that council undertake a two-year pilot project and direct staff to make changes to the Animal Control Bylaw to accommodate urban hens and bring it back to council for approval. Council was expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday evening.
It is proposed a licence of around $50 be required and that only up to 25 licences be issued during the pilot project. Applicants must notify in writing neighbours within 150 metres before making an application for a hen licence. Licences would be revoked if there are any valid complaints, such as smell, well-being of hens, predator attraction or whether egg sales were happening.
A number of other communities have already embraced urban hens, including Red Deer and Lacombe. Lacombe started a two-year pilot project in 2016 and made urban hens a permanent option in 2018.
City of Red Deer was one of the earliest Alberta communities to consider urban hens when it began a pilot project in 2013. It later became a permanent program and in 2017 the number of licences allowed has been increased to 102 based on population.
This year, it has been proposed that there be no cap on licences, following the lead of other communities such as Lacombe and Rocky Mountain House, and that the number of hens allowed be increased to six from four. That issue along with animal bylaw changes will come back to council later this year.