Chickens in downtown Whitehorse what the cluck?

Depending on who you talk to, Kaeley Wiseman had different birds stowed in her backyard over the year. To her neighbours - who helped feed them - they were chickens.

Depending on who you talk to, Kaeley Wiseman had different birds stowed in her backyard over the year.

To her neighbours – who helped feed them – they were chickens.

But to the city, which doesn’t allow them, they were “exotic birds.”

“There’s this grey line because the city allows exotic birds,” said Wiseman who recently gave away her chickens.

“If I got caught I was going to call them my ‘heritage birds.’”

Although illegal, there are several small chicken farms cropping up around the city.

“It’s interesting because there’s this real underground chicken market when you start asking around,” she said.

A policy in the soon-to-be-passed Official Community Plan may bring these fowl out of hiding.

The city says it wants to support local agriculture and will consider allowing chickens, bees and other small livestock in people’s backyards.

“By allowing non-soil-based agriculture such as backyard chickens or apiaries, residents can offset the cost of importing the majority of their food base,” reads a policy

in the second draft of the community plan.

But what kinds of animals and how many would be allowed in people’s backyards is still up for discussion.

“Urban chickens and livestock will be discussed at length (once the community plan has been voted in),” said planning manager Mike Gau.

“But how it will be done needs to be sorted out so it doesn’t impact other people.”

City council doesn’t need to follow what’s laid out in the Official Community Plan, even if a majority of people polled in a city survey in 2008 were in favour of the idea, said Gau.

“It was the most talked about issue in the OCP,” he said.

Most country residential dwellers can already have animals like chickens and goats in their yards, without a limit on the number they can have.

“But if you have a loud horse or pig we’ll be out there,” said land development supervisor Pat Ross.

Every so often his department fields calls from people wanting to know whether they can house chickens or a llama in their backyard.

Vancouver just changed its bylaws to allow backyard chickens in April.

The city allows four chickens per backyard and no roosters. It also requires chicken owners to register their chickens with the city.

Victoria, Niagara Falls and Surrey have all changed their laws in the last few years to allow for chickens.

“There’s definitely a demand for chickens in Whitehorse,” said Wiseman.

“There’s only one woman at the (Fireweed) market who sells free-range eggs and they sell out in minutes.”

Wiseman knows a small network of people in town who own chickens. Some live on country residential properties where they’re allowed, and others are in city neighbourhoods like Riverdale.

She owned her five chickens for about half a year, losing one to a fox in the spring.

It wasn’t a hard sell to convince her downtown neighbours of the chickens, many of whom live in subsidized housing.

“Actually, two-thirds of them liked that it was illegal,” she said with a laugh.

“Like I was sticking it to the man by having them.”

The kids in her neighbourhood helped feed the chickens in exchange for eggs.

“Some of them had never seen them before in their lives,” she said.

“They were blown away to see the chickens lay eggs.”

And no one complained about the noise or smell – two points often raised by backyard chicken opponents, she said.

They were cheap to keep, as well.

She fed her chickens kitchen compost and food scraps that Riverside Grocery could no longer sell.

Her chicken coop was made from recycled plywood and chicken wire. A heat lamp was the only thing she needed to buy.

But Wiseman had a hard time sourcing her chickens.

Of all the farms in the Yukon only one sold free-range chickens, Pelly River Ranch Farms.

She bought each Rhode Island red hen for $10 a bird.

It was a good deal considering that most laying hens will produce up to 350 eggs in their first years of life.

“Pound for buck, they’re the best producers of protein,” said Wiseman.

However, she gave them away this September because she didn’t have the right equipment to fake their light cycle during the winter.

Vancouver’s SPCA has publicly opposed backyard chickens for this reason, fearing that they may be overrun with chickens when their owners no longer want them.

Vancouver’s council is even considering opening a $20,000 shelter for abandoned chickens.

Whitehorse’s own council will have to peck away at those questions when the issue of urban agriculture hits their desks.

City council is expected to pass the Official Community Plan this month.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

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