City officials continue 'hen-keeping' workshops as pilot project continues

City officials are continuing to offer workshops on how to raise hens as part of its Urban Hen's Program. It’s a project that has been years in the making.

Residents in 4 wards in Toronto can keep up to 4 hens under pilot program launched this month

Residents in four wards in Toronto can now keep hens in their backyards as part of the new Urban HensTO pilot program. (CBC)

Torontonians who are interested in raising hens in their backyards under a newly launched pilot program are getting help from Toronto Animal Services and the Toronto Food Policy Council. 

On Saturday, the two groups staged the second in a series of workshops to give residents the opportunity to learn about pilot requirements, basic care for hens, how to prevent and detect disease, best practices for feeding and caring for hens, and coop designs.

Effective March 2, residents in four wards in Toronto have been legally able to keep hens in their backyards as part of the new Urban HensTO pilot program.

The pilot, which allows Torontonians to keep up to four hens for the purposes of enjoyment and egg production, runs until March 2, 2021.

Laura Torrance, one of the participants at today's workshop said she has never owned hens before but it's something she is interested in.

"Just to have those fresh eggs would be a great experience and caring and raring them would be great," she told CBC Toronto.

Torrance said she knows "it will be work" caring for the hens, but she believes it will be a great experience which she is "excited" about.

Laura Torrance says she has never owned hens before but she hopes to own two under the new pilot program. (CBC)

City Councillor Joe Mihevc, who facilitated today's workshop, said Toronto is now catching up on something that municipalities across Europe and North America have been doing for years.

"It's a chance for Torontonians who want to, to really be closer to their food supply," Mihevc told CBC Toronto on the sidelines of today's workshop for Ward 21 (St. Paul's), at St. Matthew's United Church.

"Some people are doing it for that motivation, other people are doing it because they see them as decent pets, some people want them for the eggs — organic eggs that they just go in the backyard and get them fresh each and every morning."

To be eligible to take part in the program, residents must  live in a house or townhouse with a backyard; reside in Ward 5 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park), Ward 21 (St. Paul's), or Ward 32 (Beaches-East York). They must also register their hens with the City and construct a coop in compliance with local zoning requirements.

Hens continue to be prohibited animals in the City of Toronto unless all of the above criteria are met, while roosters are prohibited city-wide.

The following remaining workshops are set to take place:

• Ward 5 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore): Etobicoke Civic Centre, 399 The West Mall, Saturday, April 14, 10 a.m. to noon
• Ward 32 (Beaches-East York): Danforth Mennonite Church, 2174 Danforth Ave., Saturday, April 21, 10 a.m. to noon

Mihevc responds to concerns

Mihevc responded to concerns raised by some that the hens could pose a problem for the health or residents and that they were a nuisance.

He notes that opponents of backyard chicken farming have spread disinformation.

"Right now we allow dogs, we allow cats, we allow rabbits, we allow pigeons. The chicken somehow is the one animal that was taken off the list around the time of amalgamation. So it really is an anomaly that it isn't already party of the list," Mihevc told CBC Toronto.

"There is no reason to fear any disease. Public Health has weighed in on it. There are lengthy reports on the fact that it is not an animal anymore that a cat or a dog is an animal that would produce disease for human beings," he added.

Councillor Joe Mihevc, who is participating in pilot program, says it’s all part of an urban sustainable lifestyle. (CBC)

Councillor plans to partake in pilot

Meanwhile, Mihevc said he will be one of the participants in the pilot because he wants to walk the talk.

"I have grandsons, I want them to come over and enjoy the backyard. They will love them as pets, they will be excited to come to see what gramps is doing," he said.

"I also like the idea of having fresh eggs — fresh organic eggs that we have produced ourselves, and to be closer to our food supply. It's all part of an urban sustainable lifestyle for me," Mihevc added.

With files from Greg Ross