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Will Newmarket council chicken out on hen debate?
June 18, 2015
By Chris Simon

Marc Mantha is pecking at council for a decision on whether to allow egg-laying hens in Newmarket backyards.

The resident wants the municipality to run a one-year pilot program in Ward 2, which would permit households to keep up to three hens for the purpose of producing eggs.

He hopes about 20 homes will participate.

After almost three years of delays, council is expected to refer the issue back to staff for further input Monday. The previous term of council deferred a decision on the matter until 2015.

“It’s usually about four to six (hens per property), so it’s fairly conservative,” Mantha said of the request Monday during a deputation to the town’s committee of the whole.

“A pilot program will allow us to test the concept. It has been three years. We’ve responded to all questions with verifiable sources. All the town would have to do is provide guidelines and, from time to time, drop by, observe and report.”

Mantha says the York Region Food Network and York Region health unit would support the program.

“(He’s) shown a great deal of patience,” Regional Councillor John Taylor said. “At some point, it’s got to be yes or no.”

Several other Ontario municipalities, including Brampton, Guelph, Kingston, Niagara Falls and Waterloo allow backyard hens.

In Guelph, residents are allowed chickens, ducks, geese and pigeons on their properties, though the animals must stay in an enclosure. The pen must also be a minimum 50 feet from adjacent homes, which means most newer, high-density properties would not be able to accommodate poultry. The bylaw has been in place, and largely unchanged, since 1944, Guelph inspection services manager Rob Reynen said. He estimates between 50 and 100 Guelph households keep live poultry and issues are handled on a complaint basis.

“It’s a long-standing bylaw; we had a fairly large Italian community back then and it was a common practice in Europe to have your own poultry for eggs or meat,” Reynen said, noting the municipality of about 130,000 has received 43 complaints since 2005. “They can’t be free ranging; they have to be kept in a coop, pen or fenced enclosure. There’s quite a few (properties); but it’s not hundreds or thousands.”

Barnyard animals used to be common in urban communities across the province, Mantha said.

“Hens do not pose a noise nuisance ... (or) transfer diseases to humans and provide safe and above-average quality eggs,” he said. “With good maintenance and care, it is safe and it does not pose any significant risk to the public. Every city and town that reintroduces allowing a few egg laying hens into backyards has done so successfully.”

Others hope the pilot will fly with residents.

“It’s a movement across North America,” Councillor Dave Kerwin said.