Skip to main content

Survey shows support for backyard chickens but CK health officials say they pose risks

The issue of backyard chickens is clucking toward Chatham-Kent council once again — following a recent survey which shows nearly 70 per cent of area residents support allowing them to come to roost.

On the other side of the debate are people concerned about health risks associated with allowing chickens to roam more freely in the municipality. Included in that group are officials with Chatham-Kent Public Health.

The municipality's current bylaws state that chickens can only be contained on agricultural-zoned land. Chickens found on other types of land can result in fines and penalties against the owner.

On Monday, Chatham-Kent Council will reconsider whether or not to allow backyard chickens in the municipality, using the results of a recent survey.

The survey was taken earlier this year and garnered nearly 5,000 responses. In the end, 68.4 per cent of respondents voted in support of allowing backyard chickens in Chatham-Kent.

"The vast majority of us are not strict vegetarians, so why not produce both vegetables and eggs? Besides, gardens grow much better when they have chickens helping them along on the fertilizer and pest control side of things," said Chatham-Kent resident Wendy Sutton.

Sutton, a strong supporter of allowing backyard chickens in residential areas, said these animals can serve as a step forward in allowing families to live a more "sustainable" lifestyle.

"A family with a vegetable garden and several chickens can, almost effortlessly, cut down significantly on their waste, compared to a family that uses its garden for ornamental purposes and relies on grocery stores for all its food needs," said Sutton.

"Because most families wouldn't own more than three or four backyard chickens, they never generate enough manure to pose any kind of toxic hazard."

But officials with Chatham-Kent Public Health disagree with the notion that backyard chickens pose no hazard to residents.

"Chickens frequently carry disease-causing bacteria even if they do not appear to be sick," health officials said in a report headed to council Monday.

"When their feathers, eggs, and living environments become contaminated with feces, bacteria can be spread to people, resulting in symptoms of enteric illness such as abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea."

Public health officials also point to avian influenza as another major hazard.

Ed McKinlay, a producer of eggs and broiler chickens in Chatham-Kent, shares in that concern, saying avian flu has had devastating effects across Canada and the U.S.

"If droppings fall in our pans or the owner walks through them in, for example, a fast food restaurant or grocery store and drops them into their backyard, they can bring that to their birds. AI [avian influenza] is extremely contagious," he said.

McKinlay added commercial poultry farmers typically provide controlled environments for their birds, such as indoor housing, to minimize exposure to external factors like extreme weather and wild predators.

In contrast, he worries that backyard flock owners may not have the same level of knowledge or resources to provide optimal housing conditions.

"There could be all kinds of wild animals, foxes, skunks, dogs and cats could be going after them and the type of food they eat," said McKinlay, adding the quality of the eggs could also be compromised.

"Osteoporosis is also concern,” he said. “The health of the egg could be contaminated. They're not going to be graded like the eggs you buy in the grocery store."

For McKinlay, he believes many people who do not support backyard chickens were unaware of the survey when it was launched back in March, making its findings unreflective of the real opinions of the community.

Chatham-Kent Public Health makes clear it does not endorse a bylaw supporting backyard chickens in the area.

"If a by-law is passed, council is urged to consider a mandatory education component for individuals wishing to possess backyard chickens in urban areas, as well as regulatory inclusions that limit distribution of chicken products," health officials said. 

Last month, councillors in St. Thomas held off on voting for a backyard chicken pilot program amid concerns of avian influenza. Top Stories

Stay Connected