Large-scale local egg farm cited as area politicians block urban hens

Backyard chickens won’t fly in Strathroy-Caradoc.

Politicians in the mainly rural community west of London have voted, again, not to consider letting residents keep backyard chickens after the question resurfaced at a recent council meeting.

“Our largest employer is Cuddy Farms,” which supplies turkey eggs and chicks to domestic and international markets, said Strathroy-Caradoc Mayor Colin Grantham.

“So with all the concern with avian flu . . . it doesn’t seem prudent on our part to put one of our largest industries at risk with any possibility of avian flu,” he said.

“That is the No. 1 concern. We don’t want to put one of our major industries in jeopardy.”

Several residents have pitched the idea to councillors over the years, notably in 2018 and again in 2021. The latest push to amend bylaws that allow chickens in residential areas came from resident W.J. Matthew Hammond.

In a letter, Hammond turned councillors’ attention to a Kitchener bylaw allowing as many as four chickens in backyard coops. Prospective keepers must must apply for a permit, pay a $50 fee and have their property inspected.

The urban chicken debate has long ruffled feathers in nearby London, where politicians have repeatedly voted it down, most recently in 2020.

While most Ontario municipalities forbid backyard chickens, others – including Niagara Falls, Guelph, Brampton and Norfolk County – have given them the green light.

“As other cities of larger populations are capable of proceeding with this program, we should take . . . into account that this may be needed, is most certainly wanted and cannot be defined as dangerous,” Hammond wrote.

Proponents of urban laying hens tout them as a safer source of food, free of pesticides and antibiotics, that can reduce solid municipal waste by eating table scraps. Their waste can also be used as fertilizer.

Common concerns include odour, noise, disease and health management, pests and animal care issues.

A staff report on the issue, presented to council in 2018, weighed pros and cons, identified the need for resources and an enforcement strategy, and urged "stringent regulation."

"Regulation requires an enforcement staff to manage complaints from neighbours and to ensure the well-being of the poultry," it said.

It also said the municipality must ensure eggs aren't sold, that slaughter and disposal regulations are followed, and manure is disposed of properly.

But politicians weren't sold, voting unanimously Tuesday not to take action.

Coun. Brian Derbyshire called it a “recipe for disaster,” pointing to a recent avian flu outbreak in the area, “I don’t think we want to get into this.”

Coun. Steve Pelkman reminded councillors to consider residents who would have to live near urban chickens.

"The letter . . . pointed out all the infrastructure you need to put in place just to regulate it, and we’re not set up for that," he added.

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press