We prefer the chickens

Back in 2003, former Advocate columnist Moneca Wilson published a collection of reminiscences of her own childhood in The City Slicker Chicken, and Other Tales. At the time, there were already a few city slicker chickens living in Red Deer. They just weren’t in the news, as they are now.

Back in 2003, former Advocate columnist Moneca Wilson published a collection of reminiscences of her own childhood in The City Slicker Chicken, and Other Tales. At the time, there were already a few city slicker chickens living in Red Deer. They just weren’t in the news, as they are now.

But the news can make celebrities almost anywhere. And although only their neighbours know for sure where they all are, it seems that in Red Deer anyhow, urbanized chickens will soon be able to come out of the closet.

Council even seems ready to make some chicken doodlers come forth to eat crow. On Monday, a city committee made up of council members decided to find a way to legalize the presence of backyard hens — which is certainly a more enlightened approach to the breadth of urban life than can be found in less enlightened places, like Calgary.

But a certain crabby writer had suggested our city councillors were chickens for jumping all over the revelation in the news that hens were producing fresh eggs in city limits — and their legal status had never been established, except by years of peaceful practice. That opinion, as you can see, was incorrect.

As things stand, land-use bylaws in the city do not specifically allow or forbid the keeping of chickens. Actually, Red Deer has a proud history of allowing peaceful practice to continue without comment. Cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalks (except in a few blocks of the downtown core, where you must ride on the street, as dangerous as that may be). Pedestrians are allowed to jaywalk across the streets, thus making a downtown stroll much more enjoyable than a bike ride.

When the news makes either oversight appear serious, no doubt council will act, but for now one may freely roam the sidewalks on a bike, or shortcut on foot through neighbourhoods to retrieve errant hens.

And that’s exactly the kind of city I want to live in.

Baseball great Yogi Berra knew decades ago that the future ain’t what it used to be. The Red Deer that our children and grandchildren will live in won’t operate on the same parameters as ours.

We’re not saying that an economic calamity will turn city neighbourhoods into cabbagetowns, as happened in the 1930s — but it might and why should we forbid it? It seems reasonable to figure that some future residents, who will pay whatever awful price for one of our older, larger city residential lots, might want to use at least part of them for something other than mowing a rectangle of lawn.

They might decide a few hens will not only keep a yard clipped and a garden weeded (and fertilized), but will also provide interest and lessons in responsibility to children — over and above eggs with brown or green shells.

Likewise, in a future world where eating meat becomes costly, that a pen of rabbits in one yard might be worthwhile for a whole city block. For that matter, Red Deerians in the future might also keep pigeons as both a hobby and for an occasional meat pie — as has been done here in the past.

We can’t afford to close doors to a future we can’t see.

We should appreciate it when people with authority don’t ban things just because “that’s not how things should be done.”

Chickens in the city limits — why not? Our Governance and Policy Committee has asked city staff to stipulate controls and responsibilities for keeping hens, just as we do for cats and dogs.

Irresponsible owners of any animal can be dealt with under the bylaws.

So far, our population of clucks has not been a problem to anyone. They’re less noisy by far than the wild crows that hold their sunrise parliaments.

And speaking (metaphorically) of crow, having to eat it once in a while isn’t so bad.

Tastes like chicken.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor