Champlain Township is not chicken when it comes to examining allowing residents of urban, residential areas to keep hens in their backyards.
On June 22, council adopted a resolution directing the administration to carry out a public consultation to assess the community’s support for a pilot project allowing backyard hens in residential areas and return to Council with a final report.
The township receives about five calls each year from residents asking if they can have hens in their backyard.
Senior Planner Jennifer Laforest told council there is currently no legal direction on backyard hens in Champlain.
“Currently, our animal control bylaw is silent on the issue of hens,” she said.
Laforest explained that hens are currently defined as a “unit of livestock” and only permitted on appropriately zoned rural, agricultural properties outside villages with a minimum area of two hectares/five acres. She said Champlain will also give consideration to what sort of residential dwellings hens will be permitted at, including single detached homes, apartments, semi-detached homes, or apartments.
The townships of Alfred and Plantagenet and Russell are the two other municipalities in Prescott and Russell which currently permit hens in the backyards of urban, residential properties. Both municipalities require the property owners to have a permit to keep the hens. Alfred and Plantagenet allows a maximum of six hens, and Russell Township has a range limit of three to five hens. In Russell Township, a residential lot must be a minimum of 500 square metres in area to accommodate hens. Alfred and Plantagenet has no minimum lot size.
Laforest said 500 square metres is a good starting point for consideration in any potential hen pilot program in Champlain. She said most existing urban residential lots would comply, but some in newer subdivisions, they are smaller and may not qualify.
Laforest further explained that in municipalities requiring hen permits, bylaw officers retain the discretion to rescind permits if there are significant complaints from other residents. Laforest’s report suggested the annual permits could be sold for $70. She said some municipalities also have requirements on coop design and address concerns about poultry diseases such as avian influenza.
Councillor Ginette Clément expressed her support for having a public consultation. Councillor Paul Burroughs suggested fences be required around backyards with hens to prevent them from getting out and going on neighbouring properties or the street. He said it would also make work easier for bylaw enforcement personnel.
Laforest said Russell Township requires fences but many residential properties in Champlain are not fenced. She said hens in Champlain would have to be in the coop or run at all times, which usually results in the area of that enclosure being larger to give them adequate space.
Councillor Sarah Bigelow said she has difficulty with pursuing a public consultation if only about five people per year express interest in having hens. She also objected to the $70 cost of permits and potential for bylaw enforcement to be involved.
“I don’t think it’s something I now support,” Bigelow said.
However, Councillor Gerry Miner expressed his support for having a public consultation and moved the resolution, which was seconded by Clément.
The motion was carried but Bigelow and Councillor Michel Lalonde voted against it.
In a separate interview, Mayor Normand Riopel emphasized that at this stage, allowing backyard hens in Champlain Township is only being studied.
“A lot of municipalities have it,” he commented.
Champlain Township has launched a survey to obtain opinions from residents about allowing backyard hens in the municipality. The information gathered in the survey will help staff with the development of policy and a bylaw. The information will also help council make a decision on if backyard hens will be permitted in Champlain Township. To take the survey, go to: www.champlain.ca/hens .