Animal Bylaw A-300 allows for residents of the Halifax peninsula to keep rabbits, fish, lizards, birds, cats, dogs, snakes, spiders, and a veritable Noah’s ark of other creatures, great and small, as pets. But allus gallus domesticus, otherwise known as the common chicken, is species non-grata on the peninsula, and that has feathers flying among poultry aficionados.
“In the urban areas, keeping chickens is not a permitted use under the land-use bylaws,” explains HRM spokesperson Shaune MacKinlay. “It’s seen as an agricultural use of an urban area.” Provided you don’t derive any agricultural use from it, you can keep a snake up to 3.2 metres in length as a pet. You can legally purchase and keep a tropical parrot, which will generate a relative equivalent of waste matter as a chicken. But house a chicken on the peninsula--- a chicken that will lay on average 260 eggs per year---and you are breaking the law.
Many residents perceive this by law as a direct affront to their ability to be food secure. In this age of perennially escalating food prices and peak oil, a bylaw restricting the keeping of an animal, simply because said animal provides a steady supply of food, has created a clandestine coalition of coop-keepers across the peninsula.
“I know of at least 15 people keeping chickens on the Halifax peninsula,”says John van Gurp, creator of the Facebook group Halifax Chickens. “I’m planning on getting some myself in the spring.”
While some are content to house their hens under the veil of secrecy, Fred Connors, owner of the salon/gallery/cafe FRED. beauty food art, is flaunting his poultry predilection. Connors keeps chickens and isn’t afraid to admit it.
“Chickens isn’t just because I’m cute, or controversial, or because I like birds,” says Connors. “I have chickens in my backyard because I really want to be in control of the food that I eat. I think that every single person, if they have the ability to produce food, should take some responsibility to do so.”
Connors’ unapologetic stance on backyard hens has brought him into direct confrontation with the HRM. But after a rocky first encounter--- bylaw officers served Connors with a “notice to comply” after a complaint (though Connors doesn’t know who complained) and Connors refused---the two sides appear to be bridging their differences, and pushing the debate forward. “HRM is now working more with me than against me on this issue,” says Connors. “I have proposed, with HRM, that a pilot project be established. We can use my neighbourhood as a site where we can examine the impact of the keeping of urban hens on a peninsula neighbourhood.”
An application to amend the current land-use bylaws to allow for the keeping of backyard laying hens is currently before city council, and a decision on the matter is expected to be tabled by the spring of 2011. With Connors’ immaculate coop and free-range hens as the pilot project, Halifax’s chickens may be finally coming home to roost.