By Chad Ingram
The issue of allowing backyard chickens in Minden Hills is back on the proverbial table for township councillors after a delegation during an April 8 online meeting.
During last week’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, councillors heard a presentation from resident Matthew McWilliams, requesting the township amend its zoning bylaw to allow for the keeping of backyard chickens. Currently, Dysart et al is the only one of Haliburton County’s four lower-tier townships that permits keeping backyard chickens. Backyard chickens are permitted in numerous municipalities across Ontario, including large urban centres. The issue has been discussed by a series of Minden Hills councils, with requests from the public coming forward every few years.
Citing the township’s zoning bylaw, McWilliams pointed out that “farm uses,” including the growing of horticultural crops, raising of livestock and maple syrup production, are technically prohibited in residential zones.
McWilliams told council a complaint had been lodged against his family for the use of their one-acre property, where they grow vegetables, tap maple trees, have apple trees and keep backyard chickens. “All of which are classified as farm use,” he said. “Unfortunately, our entire neighbourhood is at fault for one or more of the farm uses stated. We recently went door-to-door, inquiring about our land use and who was in support of our urban farming/backyard chicken venture, and the surrounding 50-plus households in our residential zone are in support.”
McWilliams, who during his presentation spoke to issues of food security and the environmental consequences of shipping food long distances, had also collected signatures.
“In the trend of green and climate action, why wouldn’t the township be encouraging the growing of backyard food production, including and not limited to, eggs from chickens?” he said.
“I have been working on this for years,” said Councillor Jean Neville, a lifelong poultry farmer who’s in her third term on council, noting that reasons for continuing to disallow backyard chickens in the past have included concerns around disease. “ … I have not yet known anybody to have caught a disease or died from a chicken, myself and family included.”
“Just so everybody is aware, and I know there aren’t too many chicken fanciers here on my screen right now,” Neville continued, “the social well-being, I’d really like to speak on that. During COVID, there has been an influx of people keeping chickens and raising baby chicks. And if you’ve never had them, and don’t laugh, they are the best mental therapy, ever. No kidding.”
Councillor Bob Carter, who’d been a member of the township’s planning committee before being elected to council, noted the bylaw had been reviewed years ago.
“At the time, there was a fairly extensive review done of towns across Ontario,” Carter said. “Based on the feedback and a number of issues … it was decided not to proceed with changing the bylaw. So, I would suggest that if we are going to do anything, it should go back to committee and that work should be reviewed, and we should go from there. I don’t think we should just make changes, even though it seems like the right thing to do … all changes have consequences, so we should at least review the research that was done.”
Councillor Pam Sayne, who’d also been on the planning committee for a previous look at backyard chickens, said she recalled one of the major issues being the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Rural Affairs and its concerns around potential spread of viruses coming from chickens.
“The requirements for growing chicken with OMAFRA are incredibly strict,” Sayne said, adding she supported a review of the matter, and thought the municipality should check with the ministry.
Mayor Brent Devolin said the issue of backyard chickens, along with other recurring issues such as the use of shipping containers and trailers, would be looked at as part of the township’s official plan review.