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Orillia lays groundwork for allowing backyard chickens in the city

'They talk about a sustainable Orillia, (and) this is a step towards that by opening it up to everybody,' says participant in pilot program
Jeff Hopkins has participated in the city's backyard chicken pilot project since 2018. He said people in his neighbourhood have enjoyed his chickens and applauded the city for deciding to extend the program to the rest of Orillia.

After a successful six-year pilot project, city council voted in favour of permitting backyard chickens across the city at its recent meeting.

Residents will be allowed to keep up to four hens, which must be confined to a coop and/or chicken run, for the purpose of laying eggs.

“The pilot was first launched in June of 2017, (and) 12 properties were able to participate,” said senior planner Jill Lewis. “Since that time we've received virtually no concerns from residents at large in the community.” 

Lewis said there is currently a wait-list of 10 property owners looking to keep chickens.

“In our opinion, it's time to permanently establish the program and remove the maximum cap on the number of properties able to participate,” she said.

The program will be limited to properties with a lot size greater than 500 square metres, with licences available throughout the city. There will be a $100, lifetime fee to obtain a licence.

Due to noise, roosters will not be permitted, and the selling of eggs will also be prohibited.

In a report to council, city staff noted they received only one complaint over the past four years, when a fugitive hen managed to escape its coop.

Feedback from participants noted that children love the chickens, that keeping chickens for eggs contributes to food sustainability, and that participants generally grew quite attached to the chickens.

Resident Jeff Hopkins has participated in the program since 2018, and he currently keeps two hens in his backyard coop. He grew up with chickens and geese, both for meat and eggs, and applauded the city’s decision to open up the program to the rest of Orillia.

“I think it's great. I think it's a throwback – we're going back to how it used to be,” Hopkins said. “There's no reason why you can't have more food in your backyard. They talk about a sustainable Orillia, (and) this is a step towards that by opening it up to everybody.”

Hopkins said his backyard chickens have been a positive experience for both himself and his neighbourhood, with a neighbour regularly bringing his young daughter over the feed the chickens.

“They don't make lots of noises because they're not roosters,” he said. “The guy two doors down, every time he has his daughter here, they come up and they feed the chickens just through the wire.”

Program participants expressed a desire to raise the number of chickens permitted, and to permit free-range chickens, but staff recommended against doing so at Monday’s meeting.

When asked to clarify the definition of 'free range' by Coun. Janet-Lynne Durnford, Lewis explained permitting free-range chickens would attract predators.

“My understanding of reading or OMAFRA’s (Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs) information about why they do not recommend free range is more that it can bring in predators to the area,” Lewis said.

Coun. Ralph Cipolla questioned whether there was any way to monitor against avian flu.

Lewis said the city will not be inspecting for avian flu, but Shawn Crawford, the city's manager of legislative services, said a poultry veterinarian previously recommended capping the limit at four hens to prevent its spread.

“That particular recommendation was done recognizing the avian influenza,” he said. “It's not a perfect solution, but by having a cap it limits the likelihood of there being issues in urban areas.”

Council’s decision is subject to ratification at its April 3 meeting.

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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