Feathers fly in back yard chicken debate

Joe McWilliams

From Slave Lake Lakeside Leader

 

After some vigorous discussion, Slave Lake town council has pretty much decided to give back yard chickens a try.

It’ll be a small number, for a trial period, but it’s a definite step forward for proponents of urban poultry.

On the other hand, an outpouring of opposition at an upcoming open house could kill the idea before it starts.

Opposing positions on the question were taken by councilors at an Aug. 16 council meeting. This followed a report on the pros and cons, based on research into how other municipalities are handling it.

What councillors heard was that it is being tried elsewhere, but not without problems. The stink of chicken feces during spring thaw is a big one. Another factor weighing against the change would be the anticipated increase in work for town staff, in the area of enforcing the rules and dealing with the inevitable complaints. The report made it clear the town’s animal control resources are already maxed out.

Council was getting the report because a few weeks ago a local resident asked for permission to keep a couple of exotic chickens. This is not allowed under the town’s current Responsible Pet Owners Bylaw.

Councillor Julie Brandle was the first to weigh in on the issue, and she wasn’t pulling any punches. Anticipating complaints about bad smells and neighbourly disputes, she said she was not in favour and would vote against the bylaw change. However, she left the door open to considering it on acreages.

Councillor Mark Missal was also in the ‘nay’ camp.

“I can’t support it,” he said. “I see a lot of time being chewed up by staff.”

Mayor Tyler Warman was thinking differently.

Noting that Edmonton, Peace River and Grande Prairie are already experimenting with backyard chickens, he said, “I don’t think it would be very open-minded of us to just close the door.”

Warman went on to say he doubted if there would be a rush of applicants for back yard chickens, and that perhaps a pilot project would be the way to go. That’s what Edmonton is doing he said, noting the city had recently` extended the trial by another year.

As for the smell issue, Warman said, “three large dogs smell worse than three small chickens.”

“I agree,” said councillor Darin Busk. “I don’t think this is going to be a huge problem.”

“I’m definitely interested,” said councillor Joy McGregor. “I like the idea of a trial period.”

Warman made a motion that the town invite public feedback on the matter at an open house, and that if there’s no great opposition, move ahead with a trial period for back yard chickens. Brandle’s was the only vote against that proposal.

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