score (another) one for the chicken lady!

A little bit of the chicken story's background: I approached a Town Councillor in December, asking about having backyard hens in town, and whether or not that was covered by any existing by-laws. The matter was brought to Council in February by the Councillor, then it went to the Planning Advisory Committee, the meeting of which I attended a few weeks ago, and tonight was the public participation meeting at which the public can present whatever information they choose. At the last meeting, several members of the PAC voiced their complete opposition to having hens in town, but it was agreed to have a public participation meeting, which is what took place tonight. And here's what I said:

"Good evening,

My name is Sherrie Graham, and I am the town resident who made the initial inquiry about keeping backyard hens within town limits.

While I agree with many of the proposed draft amendments in the February 28 report, I disagree with the reasons listed for which the town should refuse to allow hens within town limits.

There are five key concerns listed in the report along with the recommended refusal, and I would like to briefly address these.

1.    Rodents: The primary situation in which rodents would be attracted to a coop would be if chicken feed was stored or left in the open.  If hens’ food source is kept in an impermeable container, rodents will not be able to access it. If coops are required to be built in such a way that they are raised up off of the ground, rodents will not live under them. There are already rodents in the Town, yes, but permitting backyard hens would not increase their numbers at such as rate as to significantly increase the total population. As far as the Town’s proximity to the water, backyard hens are successfully permitted in many waterfront cities, namely Victoria, BC and New York City.

 2.    / 3. Chicken waste / health effects: With a small limit on the number of hens permitted on a given property, which I fully support, the waste matter from 3 or 4 hens would not be of such a volume that during cleaning of the coop, it becoming airborne would drift to nearly the extent that open burning would. Those two situations aren’t really comparable.

Yes, some residents of the Town are allergic to dust, feathers, and certain smells, but the hens would be kept in an outside coop and run in open air at a regulated distance from other residences. This combined with proper care and regular cleaning would reduce any adverse health effects on neighbours to virtually none. As stated in the the ‘Residential Urban Chicken Keeping” paper attached to the Town Planner’s report, “Chicken keeping alone does not cause the nuisances listed above [noise, smells, etc.], but rather they result from improper care and maintenance which can sometimes occur.”

It is also stated in the article that ‘4 to 6 birds can provide enough eggs for a family and does not highly increase the potential for nuisances’.

4.      Disposal of chickens: The concern listed in the report says “There is a high rate of overturn associated with chicken egg production.” That is true in the case of industrial chicken farming, but in a backyard context, hens are often kept for several years, as opposed to several months in industrial settings. Requiring the slaughter of chickens to be off-site, even at a provincially inspected abattoir, would be a reasonable recommendation.

The concern is also stated that “Chickens are also noisy causing noise pollution that will impact the quiet enjoyment of adjacent and nearby properties.”
Roosters are, in fact, noisy. Hens, however, are not. They are certainly no more noisy than a neighbour’s dog or children.

5.      Enforcement of such provisions: Portland, Maine is described in the article attached to the Town Planner’s report as having pro-chicken regulations on a 1-year trial basis, with a set number of permits issued until the yearly re-evaluation. Given the concerns raised in the recommendation to refuse the proposed changes, this appears to be a reasonable way to ascertain in practical terms if the concerns would be validated.

After visiting hens on other properties, online research, and reading the ‘Residential Urban Chicken Keeping’ article attached to the Town Planner’s report and its conclusion that “cities can allow citizens the right to keep chickens while also addressing the concerns of other stakeholder groups” I am convinced that the Town of Yarmouth could be a place where urban hens could be successfully permitted.

Thank you for your time."

Two wonderful things happened:
1. The recommendation went forward for the matter to be brought to Council, meaning that my little talk and that of another resident drastically changed the minds of several members of the committee. The general thought around the table was that having some sort of trial basis to see if those issues would, in fact, be issues, would be the best route. The way to go about that, given the structure of the Town's by-laws and such, is one thing that Council will need to look at.
2. The whole discussion was so very civil, kind, respectful, thoughtful, and progressive. Everyone was looking for ways to make this work and to talk about it. That was enough to make me love my town even more; one of the committee members wanted to chat with me afterward - it was just lovely. So I am going to bed happy. And feeling all civic-dutily proud.

Of course, I'll keep you posted on what happens at the next meeting on May 12!


  1. Great!!! I have no hope of owning chickens here, so I am vicariously fighting the good fight with you there. ;)

  2. Go you! Backyard chickens are allowed here (Newcastle, Australia.) We've thought about it but I'm not sure we have the room in our small yard.

  3. Wow, you did so great! You are really moving things in that town of yours!! Keeping my fingers crossed for success, so you and others can have their chickens :)

  4. Gillian Murdock (Hatfield)4/19/2011

    Congratulations, Sherrie! I came across your blog a couple of months ago, and have been following the "chicken saga". An acquaintance of mine has been involved with battling Halifax for the right to keep chickens. He actually has 8, so I guess it's more the battle to keep them. My husband and I are also thinking about getting 2 or 3. I hope it all works out!

  5. Go girl !!! We've never had rat problems here (although we don't live in town). We keep the feed in a steel garbage can with the lid on.

  6. Sherrie, good for you. You were certainly prepared. How can they say no to such rationality?


Thanks so much for your comments - I read and appreciate each one! Sorry about the word verification - the spammers found me and it became necessary. Thanks for taking the time to comment!