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Blackfalds starts two-year urban hen pilot project

Up to four hens will be allowed depending on coop size
Blackfalds has just started a two-year urban hen pilot project. (Contributed photo)

Urban hens are coming to Blackfalds as part of a two-year pilot project.

Town council unanimously approved an urban hen bylaw and an amendment to the animal control bylaw at its Tuesday meeting.

The bylaw included some changes from an earlier proposal that required urban hen applicants to consult neighbours before applying for a licence. At one time it was proposed that all neighbours within 150 metres be notified by an urban hen applicant and 75 per cent must be in favour.

Concerned about triggering confrontations between property owners, council directed administration to drop that requirement, as well as an alternative less-stringent requirement that adjacent property owners be given the heads-up.

A section allowing neighbours to appeal an urban hen licence approval was also dropped.

Urban hen licences will cost $70 per year will be valid as of Tuesday until July 10, 2024. At that point, urban hen owners must buy another $70 licence. Up to four hens will be allowed, depending on the size of the coop.

Roosters will not be allowed to avoid unwelcome early-morning crowing wake-up calls. Selling eggs, meat, slaughtering chickens on the property and keeping hens in anything other than a coop will also be prohibited.

An urban hen pilot project was proposed after a recent survey found that a majority of residents were in favour of the idea and follows the lead of a number of central Alberta communities, including Red Deer.

Coun. Laura Svab said she had been approached by someone who is allergic to chickens and wanted to know what they could do if urban hens showed up next door.

She was told the town’s bylaw control officer could act only if there are violations of the urban hen bylaw. Chickens would not be removed but a licence may not be renewed if there were unresolved issues.

Mayor Jamie Hoover said there are plenty of people allergic to cats and dogs and the town would not make owners give up their pets on those grounds.

“I’m not sure that someone could prove that their allergies are specifically triggered by a neighbour’s animals.”

Enforcement would kick in if coops were not being properly maintained, there was excessive odour or the hens’ health was at risk.

“The bylaw has been prepared to ensure the hen’s basic health and well-being are looked after,” said town planning and development manager Jolene Tejkl in a statement.

“This is being done by ensuring there is an appointed temporary caregiver for when the urban hen owner is temporarily unable to provide care for their hens, and requiring each hen is provided with food, water, shelter, light, ventilation, care, nest boxes, one perch per hen, a minimum coop floor area and outdoor enclosure area per hen along with opportunities for essential behaviours such as scratching, dust-bathing, and roosting.”

“Municipal enforcement mechanisms and general penalties for not following the bylaw have been built in, and if someone has been found violating the Urban Hen Bylaw, they may not receive a renewal on their one-year urban hen licence,” Tejkl added.

Hooper said urban hens are being tested as a trial to see how they are received.

“We don’t know what the end result is going to be, whether we’ll have a significant amount of objection to this. I appreciate we’ll have that opportunity to follow up over the next couple of years. I look forward to finding out.”

Town staff said all the communities they surveyed that had done pilot projects went on to allow hens permanently.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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