Urban chicken coop OK’d by city

Whitehorse's newest residents are living in Kristina Calhoun's backyard pen. Calhoun became the first to get a permit to house backyard chickens after a new city bylaw was passed.

Whitehorse’s newest residents are living in Kristina Calhoun’s backyard pen.

Calhoun became the first to get a permit to house backyard chickens after a new city bylaw was passed. The birds, little balls of yellow fuzz, rest atop wood chips, huddling together and bathing in the warmth provided by the pen’s heat lamp.

Calhoun has become known as the “chicken lady” after leading the charge to have Whitehorse’s bylaws amended to allow up to six hens.

It’s a process that began three years ago, when Calhoun began keeping six roosters and six hens in her Riverdale yard, only to eventually learn that city regulations prohibited owning poultry or pigeons except in designated country residential subdivisions.

After a neighbour complained about the sound of the roosters, it kicked off a battle with the city that finally came to an end this month.

Bylaw officers were out at Calhoun’s residence earlier in the week to inspect the pen, made by Calhoun and her husband from recycled material. With her licence laminated and prominently displayed on the front, officials deemed it fit to raise her brood. Five other Whitehorse residents are in the process of seeking similar permits.

Calhoun’s original pen had to be rebuilt to fit city regulations, as bylaw requires it to be at least one metre from neighbouring property lines.

Calhoun petitioned city council in 2011, drumming up local support on her mission to make backyard chickens legal. She referenced other cities – Vancouver, Toronto and New York City among them – that allow chickens and the benefits backyard farming brings into communities.

“Once you set up for it, it’s not hard,” she said, standing beside her pen on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a great way to have fresh eggs. I know exactly where they came from, what feed they had, I don’t have to worry about antibiotics or anything and I don’t need to run to the store if I run out of eggs.”

For Calhoun, the Yukon’s Green Party leader, the issue at the heart of it is much larger than just having permission to keep chickens – what she’s most concerned about is food security.

“We all know what happens when the trucks can’t come up the highway,” she said.

“I think its really important that municipal, federal, and territorial governments remove as many boundaries as they can to allow people to be as self-sufficient as they can, especially in an isolated community like this.”

While six chickens are allowed under the new bylaw, most hatcheries have a minimum order of 25 chicks. Calhoun would like to see the six chicken limit lifted, at least seasonally, such as allowing residents to keep 25 birds from May 1 to September 1.

“Then the city and everyone else would know those chickens would be butchered on September 1 and you keep your remaining six over the winter,” she said. “It would be a really easy way to promote food security, having your meat birds right in your backyard and knowing everything they are eating.”

Calhoun said lifting the limit would also allow other people to raise the broods, the most work intensive part of keeping chickens, and then return them to their owners when they are closer to fully grown and capable of looking after themselves and regulating their own temperatures.

Calhoun ordered her chickens from Miller Hatchery in Edmonton and after keeping six, the remaining chicks went to the 10-Mile House, a local community farming group.

Being part of the local farming network is one of the most enjoyable aspects of keeping the birds, said Calhoun.

In her own neighbourhood a local economy has popped up around them.

She’s able to trade a dozen eggs to one neighbour for a freshly baked loaf of bread, or to another for vegetables grown in their greenhouse.

“There’s this exchange going on right here in the neighbourhood and everyone benefits,” she said. Her neighbours have already placed their orders. “They know they’ll be getting some eggs,” she laughed.

The chickens are butchered in a mobile abattoir. Last year, teaming up with members of Growers of Organic Food Yukon, Calhoun slaughtered 220 chickens in a Saturday afternoon.

“It’s almost like an underground food network, and I love knowing we have it here,” she said.

“If people want to try and do something they should be allowed to. Not everyone is going to want to, but if you do there is this local food network to grow and share and support.”

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