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City approves first legal chicken coop

Kristina Calhoun didn't chicken out when the city told her she couldn't raise birds in her own backyard. She challenged city council in the winter of 2011 with a petition to allow her to do so.

Kristina Calhoun didn’t chicken out when the city told her she couldn’t raise birds in her own backyard. She challenged city council in the winter of 2011 with a petition to allow her to do so.

The city recently approved Calhoun for the first legal chicken owner in city limits when a bylaw officer issued her a permit last Friday.

It was a long haul for Calhoun. Bylaw officers gave Calhoun two weeks to get rid of her chickens in September 2011 or face a fine.

At the time, she had six female and six male Chantecler chickens, a “special” breed that survives in extreme cold weather, she said.

But when one neighbour complained to the city about the animals’ noise, she had to get rid of them. “They weren’t cock-a-doodling all day long, they just made these squawking attempts later,” Calhoun said.

She went to city council meetings thereafter on several occasions, with a petition and recommendations to push for a chicken bylaw that would allow residents to set up coops in their backyards.

Perhaps she should have been careful what she asked for.

The Animal Control Bylaw was changed last year to allow people to have chickens in their backyard, but it came with several conditions.

To receive a permit, owners have to meet nine specific requirements for a coop’s measurements, including being no more than two metres high, no more than 10 metres square, and meeting other demands such as having a roof and indoor and outdoor pen areas.

This summer, Calhoun decided to focus on meeting those criteria.

“I got steel beams and two-by-four construction (material) and I just really went to town on it. It’s a very solid structure and it will probably be here for quite some time,” she said.

Calhoun had to get 60 per cent of her neighbours’ approval beforehand to even apply for a permit. Luckily, she only has two houses beside her and both approved, she said.

She said it’s unfair that her neighbours never asked her for permission to do things in their backyard, such as “having two giant dogs or three dirt bikes or two snowmobiles. They can be doing things that are far more invasive of my enjoyment of the outdoors,” she said.

It’s a way for the city to pass the buck and let residents decide the matter, said Calhoun.

Coun. Dave Stockdale does not think it’s an unusual request. “There’s potential for smell and noise and people have a right in their own neighbourhood to say yes or no,” said Stockdale.

The regulation to have one nesting box per chicken was excessive, said Calhoun. “It’s just unnecessary, it’s like saying you need to have a different helmet for every week,” she said.

Indeed, in Vancouver, one nesting box is recommended for four to five chickens.

Calhoun also complained about the required two-metre height for the coop, as she has to hunch down to get inside it.

Stockdale did not know why the other requirements were so specific, but said that Calhoun can appeal to city council if she thinks the regulations are too tough.

She plans on making recommendations to council, but she is happy she’s officially the first “chicken lady” in town, which is what she was referred to throughout the whole process.

She’s passionate about the issue because people should be able to have access to food security, she said.

In the end, her battle with the city was worth it., she said.

“My chickens are pretty pampered compared to most of the chickens. They’re tame and they would let you pet them. They’re incredibly happy and they have a job.”

Contact Krystle Alarcon at