Defending the practice of raising chickens in the City

We would like to address the concerns expressed by Ms. Eva Jensen in her letter to the editor published Feb. 8th.

CLUCK Red Deer is trying to reach out to those in our community who, like Ms. Jensen, may not be familiar with the concept of urban hen keeping and understandably have some misgivings. In this spirit, we held an Open Coop event Jan. 29th, attended by over 60 curious Red Deerians, who had the opportunity to see what urban hen keeping looks like. What they learned, we hope, is that urban coops bear little resemblance to traditional rural or farm chicken coops: they are clean and quiet, and contain a handful of birds, not hundreds or thousands.

Ms. Jensen is correct in pointing out that hens produce manure, like all pets do. The reality is that six laying hens consume less food, and thus produce less waste than two large breed dogs.

Dog manure does go to the landfill, as does cat waste and waste in disposable diapers. Poop in the dump is commonplace. Most backyard coops utilize wood shavings as bedding, and these are easily compostable along with the droppings, to be used as fertilizer for vegetable and flowerbeds. Using composted manure, usually cow manure, as garden fertilizer is a common practice among avid gardeners in Red Deer, but chicken manure is particularly rich and valuable. Also, a properly maintained coop produces no offensive odor, as any of the Open Coop attendees can attest.

Mice love any yard or home that is accessible, provides shelter and has a food source; not just chicken coops. We can and should deter or trap mice in chicken coops in the same way we do in our homes.

Bird flu, or Influenza A virus subtype H5N1, doesn’t spontaneously occur in hens. It is contracted by close contact with an infected bird. The reason birds were culled in B.C. in January 2009 was that a low-pathogenic (very mild) strain was found on a large commercial poultry operation, and the accepted international standard for disease control is to euthanize the entire flock.

Backyard hens do not come into contact with the birds most likely to be infected. If more families kept a few hens in their backyards, the size and number of commercial flocks – which are the breeding grounds for such pathogens – could be reduced. The keeping of backyard chickens is often seen as a solution, not a problem. Among looking at background information you’ll also see that even in factory farms which have had outbreaks of poultry illness, transmission to humans is not common or commonly threatening.

As Ms. Jensen is aware, having been raised on a farm and been a farmer herself, hens lay eggs regardless of whether there is a rooster around to fertilize them. No one in Red Deer, backyard hen enthusiasts included, wants roosters in the City. Unfertilized eggs do not hatch into chicks.

There will be no feral chickens running loose around neighbourhoods, since they will be kept in enclosed runs. If any family finds themselves unable to keep their hens for whatever reason, CLUCK is willing to find new homes for them.

Sunnybrook Farm is indeed a treasure in the heart of our City. However, I’m sure Ms. Jensen is aware that, as a museum and petting zoo, it bears little resemblance to a modern farm. Visiting a petting zoo is indeed educational, but only goes so far to engender a full appreciation of where our food comes from and what our farmers do.

Ms. Jensen, we find your apparent concern for Red Deer turning into a “third world shantytown” not only offensive but absurd. Vancouver, Kingston and Fredericton are but a few of the Canadian cities which allow backyard hens; not to mention large metropolitan American cities such as New York, Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Houston. While we live in Alberta with our own cultural backdrop, I’m sure we can respect that while you want hamsters and dogs, we choose chickens.

After the success of our first Open Coop event, we look forward to hosting another, and hope that Ms. Jensen and other Express readers will join us.


CLUCK Red Deer