City looks to extend backyard chicken pilot project longer than egg-spected

Dozens of hen owners across Toronto have been waiting for an update on a years-long pilot project, which was originally set to end in March 2021. Now, the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards department is recommending extending the pilot for another year.

No 'significant issues' with UrbanHensTO pilot so far, city staff say

Etobicoke resident Lauren Blumas is participating in Toronto's backyard chicken pilot project along with her hen Moira, named for a Schitt's Creek character. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

It seems participants in Toronto's backyard chicken pilot project have something to crow about.

Dozens of hen owners across the city have been waiting for an update on the years-long trial run, which was originally set to end in March 2021. Now, the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards department is recommending extending the pilot for another year.

So far, city staff have found that "there have not been any significant issues with the UrbanHensTO pilot program," wrote the department's executive director, Carleton Grant, in his new report to city council's Economic and Community Development Committee.

That's no surprise to Etobicoke resident Lauren Blumas, who signed on for the project earlier this year and says her two hens are quieter and cleaner than she expected.

Moira and Alexis — yes, they're named after the characters in CBC TV's Schitt's Creek — each lay an egg most mornings and share a spacious fenced-off grazing area and coop that's now the focal point of Blumas's backyard.

"They're far less noisy than I thought they would be," said Blumas. "This is pretty standard, what you're hearing now."

And it's not much: Just some warbling among the two feathered hens, one black and one white.

Moira, the black hen, and Alexis, the white hen, are among a couple of hundred backyard chickens registered in Toronto's pilot project. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

So far, more than 230 hens in 80 households have been registered for the program.

It spans four former City of Toronto wards, based on boundaries set before the province chopped the number of wards in 2018, meaning the program currently applies to some parts of Wards 2, 3, 4, 8, 12, 14, and 19.

'Mixed' feelings over likely extension

"Extending the pilot by one year will allow staff to continue to assess the program, undertake additional research, and focus resources on urgent COVID-19-related matters," Grant's new report reads.

The new report is being discussed at the Economic and Community Development Committee meeting on Monday.

Staff will continue analyzing the pilot program and will deliver a report with final recommendations before March 2022, which will be the new end date for the program, pending council approval.

Ken Yu, an east-end resident who has been participating in the pilot for several years, says his family's thoughts are "mixed" over extension. 

"We respect delaying a decision due to reallocated resources during difficult times but there are so many positives — education, food quality, availability, and self-sufficiency," he said.

"The normal responsibilities of hen care were a significant positive distraction for an otherwise restricted spring, summer, and fall."

Indeed, city staff did notice a slight uptick in participants this year as the pandemic started, and Blumas says Moira and Alexis have been a welcome addition to the community.

Blumas hopes council not only grants the project an extension, but expands it permanently across the city — since giving up her hens at this point would be difficult.

"We'd miss them," she said.

"And I think our neighbourhood would too."


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