By Chad Ingram
Algonquin Highlands councillors talked about potential regulations for permitting backyard chickens within the township, among other issues, during a conversation about its zoning bylaw review during an Aug. 24 meeting.
Meetings continue to be held with councillors participating remotely via online conferencing app Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic, with meetings broadcast to the public via YouTube
“The raising of chickens is currently identified in the township zoning bylaw as being a farm activity, thus it’s limited to zones in which a farm is a permitted use, and that is restricted to the rural zone of the township zoning bylaw,” Algonquin Highlands planner Sean O’Callaghan told council. O’Callaghan added that some considerations offered by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs include animal health and public health, animal treatment and potential predators. Additional concerns around the keeping of backyard chickens include noise, odour, appearance and property value, he said.
“Alternatively, there have been some benefits with backyard chickens identified by Harvest Haliburton, and these would include improving community food security, environmental benefits, health benefits, and social well-being,” O’Callaghan said.
With an emphasis on local food on the rise, there has been an increasing trend of Ontario municipalities allowing the keeping of backyard chickens in residential zones in recent years. As a report from the township’s planning consultant Greg Corbett indicated, “Generally, these regulations have permitted residents to keep a limited number of chickens (hens) primarily for the production of eggs for their own consumption and not for sale.”
Within Haliburton County, the Township of Minden Hills, like Algonquin Highlands, currently has no specific regulation regarding backyard chickens, meaning they would similarly be permitted only as a farm use in rural zones. As part of its zoning bylaw review, the Municipality of Dysart et al is proposing a regulation that would allow four hens per property, contain certain times for when they may be outdoors, prohibit slaughtering and sale, require specific setbacks, and allow chickens to be kept in a rear yard only. Chickens would be permitted in residential zones, with the exception of waterfront residential zones.
In Highlands East, backyard chickens are permitted, with a limit of three hens per property. The chickens may be kept in a rear yard only, and must be kept in an enclosure.
Councillor Jennifer Dailloux, noting she grows vegetables at her home, for example, was wondering if there should be a more precise definition of what a “farm” is, in the township’s zoning bylaw.
“We could look at further refining that,” O’Callaghan said. “Under the current bylaw, it could be argued that someone growing vegetables in their backyard could be defined as a farm. So that is something we can look at expanding upon, or further refining.”
“To me, it’s commercial versus home use,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt.
“I think we can separate this particular discussion out, because to me what’s intended here is are we going to allow chickens in a normal, residential backyard?” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen. “ . . . I don’t have a problem as long as we put some limitations in place. I don’t agree with backyard chickens in all zones. I’m not too keen about shoreline residential.”
“I agree, I don’t have a problem with the idea of backyard hens at all,” said Moffatt, adding there would need to be appropriate controls put in place.
“My thoughts are there’s a difference between someone that has a shoreline property that’s an acre and someone that has a shoreline property that’s 100 acres,” said Councillor Lisa Barry.
Moffatt asked Barry if she supported the idea of a sliding scale then – the bigger the property, the more chickens one could have – and Barry said she did. Barry also said that in Lake of Bays township, the backyard chicken regulations are that someone with a property less than an acre may have up to five chickens, and that owners of larger properties may have up to 10.
In general, councillors favoured the concept of permitting backyard chickens in some residential zones for personal use, and O’Callaghan will draft regulations to be brought back to the council table for further review.