It was a game of chicken last week at council, with Keswick resident Melody Bertolini losing her bid to keep her backyard hens after a complaint was lodged with the town against her backyard coop.
But the Tampa Drive resident isn’t crying “fowl” despite losing her hens, Peanut and Pearl, under a 30-day removal order since a potential pilot project and new or amended bylaw may be penned for the municipality after town staff were directed by council to review the issue.
Close to 500 signatures on a petition backed Melody Bertolini’s bid at council last Wednesday not only to keep her chickens in the fully fenced backyard of her 3/4-acre property, but also for a new or amended town bylaw allowing residents to keep chickens in their backyards.
“My chickens do not and will not cause a burden or be a nuisance to anybody,” Bertolini said in her appeal to council, adding she was keeping her two chickens for the sole purpose of providing her family fresh eggs free of hormones, pesticides and antibiotics.
Acknowledging potential concerns, myths and misconceptions that may be raised surrounding the issue — including backyard chickens attracting predators and posing public health risks — Bertolini noted the 15 municipalities that already allow backyard hens as well as the pilot project in Newmarket’s Ward 5 have proven them to be minor in nature and easily addressed through regulation.
“Hens do not smell. Ten hens smell less than one dog and produce two-thirds less poop of a medium-sized dog,” she said, proposing strict guidelines under a new or amended bylaw that would allow a maximum of five household pets, including hens.
Suggested regulations included allowing up to five hens, prohibiting roosters, a minimum of 10 square feet per hen in coops with cleanliness and minimum setbacks required, with collected eggs for personal use only and not for commercial sale.
Bertolini was not only fighting a 30-day removal order against her chickens after a complaint was lodged with the town, but advocating the use of backyard chickens as an affordable, sustainable source of fresh eggs; a resource for teaching our children that “the food on our table doesn’t only come from Walmart”; and that environmental sustainability on a global scale will be built “on local initiatives such as this”.
In addition, she added her hens became family pets and taught her 13-year-old son valuable lessons in not only a sustainable way of living alternative to factory farming, but also responsibility and caring for an animal.
Council said it could not intervene, nor should it, in a bylaw complaint already in process involving more than one law on the books under bylaw regulations for the keeping of animals, as well as zoning bylaws dating back to 1977 and 1994, and ,therefore, would not grant an extension for Bertolini’s hens.
It did, however, see the merit of further investigating the issue on a broad scale.
“There’s always two sides to every issue,” Mayor Margaret Quirk said, commending Bertolini for her well researched presentation, but recommending the issue be referred to staff for more research.
“It is something that will take us a lot of time to review, similar to the recreational vehicle bylaw. It is something that we can’t just say tonight go ahead and keep your chickens because we have to make sure that we do things by the letter of the existing bylaw. And we do have a complainant that we do need to address and continue on with the process.”
Despite being disappointed and heartbroken that the family’s hens were returned to their “sister chickens” at a Mount Albert farm this week, Bertolini was pleased with the prospect her proposal may have legs moving forward after staff comes back to council with a detailed report examining both sides of the issue.