In the old days, chickens wandering and scratching around the house may not have been such a shocker, but it certainly would be an eye-grabber in the city in this day and age.
Or would it? Recent news coverage in Toronto and other urban centres has shown that the idea of keeping chickens has gained a lot of interest in the city. It seems to be an idea whose time has arrived (again).
After decades of happily ingesting processed foods made of a long list of chemicals and other substances not encountered in nature, people are starting to ask questions about what they are eating. One solution is to produce the food yourself. In the same way you know precisely what goes into the vegetables you grow in your garden, you would know what has been fed to your chickens, and how they are kept or treated.
But before you rush off to build your chicken coop, keep in mind that the notion of keeping chickens in the city is one that many communities are still wrestling with. Check with your local government. If it is illegal in your city, and you would like it to be legal, get busy lobbying. Check online under urban chicken or city chicken — you’ll find lots of allies.
Toronto’s bylaws currently prohibit chickens due to health reasons (although that hasn’t stopped some urban chicken keepers), and to be fair, some councillors have come out in favour of the idea. But smaller cities such as Guelph, Brampton, and Niagara Falls in Ontario, and Victoria and Surrey in British Columbia do allow urbanites to keep chickens provided certain rules are followed. These usually have to do with the number of chickens you may keep, minimum lot size, or distance of the coop from lot lines. One rule that almost all chicken-friendly municipalities have is —- no roosters. This is because roosters try to impress hens by cockadoodling at all hours of the day, enough to drive you bonkers. Hens can cackle, but are much less vocal than crowing roosters.
Mostly, people who keep hens want eggs. Slaughtering hens for the purposes of a good chicken meal is another benefit, but many urbanites who raise chickens tend to shy away from this. They get attached to the chickens, who can actually be quite companionable.
One thing is true of home-raised chicken. I can tell you from past experience that both the meat and particularly the eggs of home-raised chickens are delicious, and often bear very little resemblance to some of the much blander commercially-produced chicken and eggs. I swear the best eggs I’ve ever eaten were bought from a ramshackle farm with wandering chickens near a cottage we used to visit — the yolks were bright yellow and the flavour unapologetically rich and flavourful.
If you are even remotely considering the idea of keeping chickens, rest assured that it involves work, and the whole affair is quite a commitment, as anybody who has ever been exposed to livestock can tell you.
Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; [email protected].