Makin' eggs: Gatineau chicken farmers offer scoop on running backyard coop

Chicken farmers Erik Young and Julie Leblanc have some advice for people in Gatineau thinking about building their own backyard coops: don't expect your little red hen to do all of the work.

Gatineau council to consider proposal to allow 50 chicken coops in the city

Erik Young and Julie Leblanc say they are crazy about chickens, but understand that not everyone is up to taking care of their needs. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Chicken farmer Erik Young has some advice for people in Gatineau thinking about building their own backyard coops: don't expect your little red hen to do all of the work.

"If you are just going to build the coop and leave them in the backyard ... chickens, they will need looking after all of the time, so if you can't look after your chickens, don't get some," said Young.

Young and his wife Julie Leblanc run a chicken farm in an area of Gatineau zoned for agriculture, but soon they and other farmers may be supplying hens to a whole new breed of egg enthusiast.

Gatineau city council is considering a proposal to allow urban chickens — and bees — as a pilot project.

The proposal would allow 10 community-based urban chicken coops, 40 chicken coops at individual urban homes and 15 beekeeping projects, as long as they were for recreational reasons, educational reasons or their products were only for personal consumption.

People running the coops would have to follow city regulations, including limiting urban coops to just three hens.

Hens need heated lamps in the winter to stay warm and keep their water from freezing. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Keep coops warm, but not stinky

Young said while he and his wife are crazy about chickens — their farm is, in fact, called Gatineau Crazy Chicken Ladies — he recognizes they aren't for everyone.

People who can't take the time to care for the chickens, or people who travel frequently, may want to think twice before applying to set up a coop, he said.

"They are like any other animals, you have to take care of them," he said. "Just like a pet or dog or something you have to clean up after them or you will get the smell."

Chickens will need a coop to protect them from the wind and cold, and a heating lamp will be especially important to keep the coop's water from freezing. The coop is also needed to protect from dangerous predators of both the birds and the eggs, including skunks, raccoons and foxes, said Young.

Leblanc said urban settings also introduce a whole different set of potential predators.

"People downtown will also have to watch out for the neighbour's dog … oh, yes," she said, as well as cats and, in some neighbourhoods, rats.

Don't worry about the cacophony of crowing roosters if your neighbour in Gatineau gets a backyard coop. Roosters are not allowed under the proposed plan. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

No noisy roosters

The Gatineau proposal doesn't allow for backyard coop owners to have roosters, something that will come as a relief to neighbours who value their sleep.

But there is a sunny side: if treated right, backyard hens can be a steady supplier of eggs. Depending on the breed, a hen can produce 220 to 260 eggs a year, said Young.

"It is fun, it is interesting, you get fresh eggs, you know where it's coming from, you know what your chicken has eaten — no hormones no nothing — they are really good quality eggs," he said.

Gatineau city council votes on the backyard coop proposal on Feb. 14.

Ottawa doesn't currently allow urban chickens, but they are allowed in Kingston.

The light at the end of the tunnel after all your work caring for chickens: a steady source of eggs. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)