Schoolyard chickens: Canmore council allows students to raise cluckers

Canmore's animal control bylaw prohibit backyard chickens in Canmore, but teachers from Canadian Rockies Public Schools have convinced town council to make an exception for them.

Animal control bylaw amended for 1 year pilot project

Guided by their teacher, Graeme Ford, Grade 6 students in Canmore, Alta., saw lumber to build the walls of their chicken coop. (Molly Segal)

Education at a Canmore elementary and a high school is going to the birds.

Teachers from Canadian Rockies Public Schools convinced Canmore town council to amend its animal control bylaw for one year so their students can raise chickens for educational purposes.

The cluckers will be housed at Canmore Collegiate High School (CCHS), but will also be cared for by elementary students from the town's nature school.

"Initially it started with, 'What kind of class pet should we have? And why would we want a class pet? And it evolved to well could we have chickens? Can chickens live in the Bow Valley?' Well, let's find out," said Graeme Ford, one of the teachers at Alpenglow Community School.

"The students are driving the project."

Coop construction underway

Grade five and six students have been busy building a 96-square-foot coop and chicken run for 12 hens, which will be hatched from eggs incubated in the classroom.

The hope is that the birds start laying eggs in the spring.

A group of students lower a wall from the roof into the atrium in the centre of Canmore Collegiate High School. (Molly Segal)

"I kind of have farm, more or less, in my blood. My grandpa came off a farm," said Renée Nickel-Lane, 9.

"I'm having a lot of fun, obviously, and get to learn so much and I'm working with wood. I love working with tools and wood and all that."

The students also designed the coop, which Ford said involved "a lot of geometry, measurements, angles and fractions."

"This entire project is cross-curricular in every capacity — science, social, math, language arts. This particular construction phase falls on our math block at our school here," he said.

"It's easy to look at a project like this and say it's too big, it's too much. But if we raise the challenge to the children they can rise to it."

Protection from predators

According to the proposal submitted to Canmore town council, the hen house will be lined with heavy chicken wire and built in an atrium, or "deep open-air space" located behind locked doors on the school's property.

"It's not accessible at all from the outside. The only way into the inner courtyard is through the high school. So it's entirely sealed from any wildlife predators, said Canmore Mayor John Borrowman.

Students from Alpenglow Community School in Canmore, Alta. Aisling Janzen (left) and Kacee Stick (right) paint the walls of the chicken coop. (Molly Segal)

Students and teachers will also frequently change wood chips, straw and hay in nesting boxes and sleeping areas to reduce odour and ensure cougars, coyotes and bears don't catch a whiff of the chickens.

To prevent the spread of disease, students must wear rubber boots and lab coats over their clothing before entering the coop and use hand sanitizer before returning to the classroom.

School to sell eggs

Eggs will be collected, cleaned and sold by the students to individuals in the community.

"Each class every week will have certain responsibilities for the chickens that we'll rotate on a weekly or biweekly basis," Ford said.

A provincial exemption allows for the sale of uninspected eggs, as long as they are consumed by the person or person's family.

Teachers must provide updates to the town on the pilot project, which is estimated to cost $1,100.

We visit students at Alpenglow School in Canmore as they build a new chicken coop and prepare for the arrival of schoolyard chickens.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener