Interest in hen program strong in Edmonton, but without additional resources it’s unlikely to buck the 50 flock limit
Urban hen-keeping got the green light from Edmonton’s city council nearly a year ago though, to some, the city’s cap on the number of licenses it will issue seems low, considering the enthusiasm surrounding the project.
Municipalities across Canada—Victoria, Yellowknife, and Ottawa, for instance—tout these popular poultry programs as a boon to food security among residents, and a way to access eggs produced more ethically than those sourced from large-scale farms.
The City of Edmonton began its pilot in 2014, and, after it saw success among residents, city planners decided to extend it for another year, and increase the number of licenses it offers from 19 to 50. In April of 2017, pilot organizers reported back to city council that the program was going well enough to become a full-fledged program, but the number of licenses available stayed the same. Those interested need to apply for a license, take a city-sanctioned course, build a coup, and submit to two yearly site inspections from city officers, one in the spring/ summer and the other in the fall/ winter.
When the pilot rolled over into a proper project, the City of Edmonton’s Animal Care and Control Peace Officer Unit didn’t receive additional resources to increase the number of officers necessary to expand it, said Trena MacGillivray, the department’s acting coordinator. Rather, they just absorbed it into their current operations.
“It’s something we manage with the resources that we already had,” she says.
It takes extra cash to train Animal Care and Control officers, though inspecting the city’s small flocks is now part of their regular duties. While the city does review the program regularly, it doesn’t have any plans to increase the number of licenses at this moment.
“If it were to increase, we would need more resources to do so,” she says.
The city’s program is still a young one, she adds, and additional resources will also depend, to some extent, on demand.
For Margaret Fisher, organizer with River City Chickens—a community organization that advocated for the program in its early stages—this cap is kind of a double-edged sword. On one-hand, Fisher’s glad the city is taking steps to ensure the health of its hens, and it would certainly cost more money to expand the project. On the other, different towns and cities across the country seem to be a little more lax on the number of flocks they allow. “I guess it’s all relative,” Fisher says.
Red Deer handles the issue as a matter of population: one license per every 1,000 residents in the roughly 100,000-person city, compared to 50 licenses in nearly a million people. Red Deer is also mulling over the idea of treating its urban hens like cats and dogs, says Erin Stuart, inspector and licensing manager of the central Albertan city.
“We’ve had very few complaints,” Stuart says.
Currently, all 50 licenses in Edmonton are full. As of last week, only six people currently sit on the waitlist, but the city-mandated course each prospective poultry keeper needs to take in anticipation of receiving his or her flock routinely fill up, Fisher says.
According to MacGillivray, the wait time for would-be hen keepers depends on how many current license holders keep their spots.
“The ones that are part of it are happy to be a part of it … We’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” MacGillivray says.