After years of council cluck-clucking, backyard chickens may be coming

After years of clucking at city hall, chickens may finally be coming home to roost in Toronto.

Proposed pilot project could see urban chicken coops in 4 Toronto neighbourhoods

Matthew, left, and Andrew Patel said that opponents of backyard chicken farming have spread disinformation, for example that the coops stink and that hens are loud. (CBC)

After years of clucking at city hall, chickens may finally be coming home to roost in Toronto. 

Council is set to consider launching a pilot project to probe the possibility of amending city bylaws that prevent amateur farmers from raising a limited number of hens in their backyards.

While other cities and municipalities already allow for small-scale urban chicken farming, the hobby continues to ruffle feathers among some councillors and their constituents in Toronto. 

Coun. Glenn DeBaeremaeker of Scarborough Centre, for example, has maintained for years that backyard chicken coops "stink," are potential health hazards, annoy neighbours and are not supported by some animal welfare groups. 

The city of Toronto is considering a pilot project that could see urban chicken coops in four Toronto neighbourhoods. 0:56

But for some in the city who are already illegally raising chickens, DeBaeremaeker is out of touch with a fledgling trend that is only in its infancy. 

"That's not our experience at all. Our chicken coop is clean, which would be mandated in a bylaw, the chickens are not noisy at all. Those are roosters that crow, hens do not crow. They're not messy," said East York resident Andrew Patel.

"This is not a new issue, it doesn't take five years, we're not reinventing the wheel. Other big cities have done this," Andrew added. 

Along with his brother Matthew, the Patels have been raising chickens during their summer breaks from university since 2012. 

But their bootleg eggs may soon be perfectly legal.

A contingent of councillors planned to introduce a motion last week that, if passed, would have seen four city wards — each associated with spacious residential backyards — turned into living laboratories for the sustainable food movement over the summer.

The motion was not voted on, however, because the last council meeting before summer break was adjourned early out of respect for Coun. Pam McConnell, who died last week. 

Instead the motion was likely have to wait until council convenes in the fall, with the pilot to launch next spring. 

Etobicoke Lakeshore Coun. Justin Di Ciano is supporting the motion and his ward will be included in the pilot. He told CBC Toronto "there are so many benefits" to raising backyard hens.

"If you have a bug problem in your backyard, the chickens are going to fix that. If you want the best type of manure, the chickens are going to supply that. If you want eggs with superior nutritional value, you're going to want those eggs from a chicken that's grown in your backyard, not one that's caged," he said. 

Matthew Patel stresses the practice is a part of the evolution of a new way of producing the food that cities consume. 

"We know exactly what these chickens are eating, that they're happy, that they're being kept in a clean and safe environment. That's a huge benefit to us to know that the eggs that we get are ethical and they're fresh, from 30 feet from our kitchen," he explained. 

If the motion is approved, the pilot could be hatched in just a few weeks. Di Ciano hopes that city staff will report back to council on the outcome of the study sometime in the fall.