Pepper’s family, the Nernberg’s, live in High Country Estates, a subdivision in the primarily agricultural RM zoned as country residential.
The Nernberg’s have lived in the subdivision for four years and moved there because they would be able to raise chickens, a love of their oldest daughter Natalie who is now 13 years old. The Nernberg’s have, on average, 25 hens and hatch their own chicks. The issue arose because they had two roosters to fertilize the eggs, a rooster named Pepper and an especially vocal Rooster called Penguin. In addition to Pepper and Penguin, hatched chicks won’t all be hens and the Nernberg’s butcher their roosters when they are of a size to do so, which can take 4-5 months.
The Smiths aren’t alone in not wanting a rooster’s crowing disturbing their country lifestyle. Crowing roosters are prohibited in many towns that allow backyard hens, such as the Town of Strasbourg. Crowing roosters can disturb people’s peace and quiet, and if you are a shift worker who sleeps during the day, it can be especially disturbing.
But what happens when you are on several acres in an agricultural community? Council for the RM had that matter in front of them on Tuesday during a public hearing.
Patricia Thompson called in and spoke to the council on the issue, noting she did not know who had submitted the complaint. She said she has lived in her property for 20 years and didn’t think it was the council’s role to mediate disagreements between neighbours. Thompson noted that in the city, police, lawyers and the courts do. She felt the rest of the ratepayers shouldn’t have to change their lifestyle to accommodate one individual.
The Reeve, Ray Wild, responded that he felt the council had got off track as the issue wasn’t about the animals but noise and that in an attempt to mitigate the noise issue, they looked at restricting numbers of poultry. He gave an example that if they restricted all animals except cats and dogs, they would still have problems with barking dogs. Patricia said she has dogs who are good at their jobs, going out at night barking at the coyotes. Patricia encouraged the council to put their foot down and tell people to figure it out. She felt that if they didn’t, the issue could get ugly.
As the bylaw also indicated restricting large animals to horses, Patricia added that she keeps sheep and that the sheep help control the leafy spurge problem in the valley where spraying for the weeds is difficult. She said that after trying to deal with the weed for two years through spraying, she recognized that she was fighting a losing battle. She said that the council should encourage people who live along the valley to keep sheep to deal with the weed. The Reeve provided historical information that sheep were used to deal with weeds in the area where High Country Estates now sits.
The Reeve added that it seems like the vocal minority runs the country and that perhaps it is time for the silent majority to speak up. Patricia said she has a good relationship with her neighbours and that after speaking with them, she said that they weren’t in agreement with the proposed bylaw but said, well, what could they do. She was also concerned that imposing restrictions could also limit property values.
Nernberg told LMT, “When Natalie and I surveyed the neighborhood I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction we were going to get, if we were “that neighbour” then ok if we are the problem even after trying to reduce the noise maybe for the good of the area we get rid of the chicken or move ourselves again but the responses were great, some even responding that they enjoy the sound of the country. I can’t get over the social media stuff... usually they are polarized but it seems everyone would rather have the country noise as compared to the city noise.”
Nernberg asked the council to spare his daughter’s silkie rooster Pepper as he was Natalie’s first chick and has become popular in the 4-H group with public speaking events and asked that council “leave the little guy be.”
Jamie Smith submitted a letter to the council saying the issue began a year previously. After several polite attempts of asking Nernberg to deal with the roosters, they felt they had to file the complaint after there was no change. He said that the acreages were more akin to large yards and not small farms. Smith said he has no issues with a reasonable amount of hens, just the matter of crowing roosters are a nuisance, and the bylaw should reflect that.
Darren Ritco also submitted a letter favouring the proposed bylaw prohibiting the roosters as the roosters were very noisy and have caused problems among neighbours. He felt the actions of the Nernbergs were unreasonable. He asked that the council put clear guidelines in place so the area could move on and avoid further conflict.
Another neighbour who directly submitted the questionnaire pointed out to the council the bylaw would limit people to owning only horses and questioned if that was their intent, referring them to the RM of Lumsden’s bylaw, which allows two animals per two hectares.
After listening to the submissions, Reeve Wild asked the council if the current bylaw wording satisfied the council. Council agreed it did not.
Among the council, comments varied but unified in revisiting the matter.
Councillor Jack Davidson said that people buy cattle to grow them out and butcher them, and a move to limit the type of animals the RM would allow would be taking the ‘country’ out trying to ‘citify’ it.
Reeve Wild commented that people shouldn’t be forced to buy a quarter section of land to keep some animals. Several councillors liked Patricia Thompson’s point of using sheep to deal with leafy spurge. Council also commented that they started with good intentions, but now that they have received all of the feedback, they need to consider it. Another councillor said that although it’s been painful, it has been a good learning experience for the council to not respond with knee-jerk reactions to issues.
Council passed a motion directing the CAO to gather bylaws from RM’s around large urban centers to bring back to council.
So what do other RM’s have in place? LMT looked at two RM’s that have addressed the issue in their bylaws. The RM of Edenwold allows up to 12 hens and no roosters in their country residential two zones. There are also setbacks requiring that chicken coops not be within a distance of 30 meters of an adjacent dwelling or property line. There are additional requirements, and the bylaw also encourages people interested in keeping chickens to consult with their neighbours to identify potential conflicts or issues.
The RM of Corman Park, outside of Saskatoon, took a different approach. They have a Keeping of Animals bylaw. As part of the bylaw, they have a blanket statement prohibiting poultry; however, the council appears receptive to different country residential subdivisions that organize themselves presenting a majority opinion on the matter and will provide exemptions.
Jessica Mitchell, a Planner with Corman Park, said, “That’s the nature of country residential communities. Some have a more rural based makeup and some have a more urban base population.” Four subdivisions in Corman Park have been granted an exemption to the bylaw, and there are varying numbers of poultry for each exemption. Of the four subdivisions that allow poultry, only one of them prohibits roosters (It also caps the number of poultry to one hen).
Responding to the council’s decision Jon Nernberg said, “I’m very appreciative that they are looking at it from both views and didn’t just react as we see far too much in this culture and times. I never thought I’d be a “lil’ chicken farmer’s” father, but I sure am proud of what she has done mostly on her own, and glad she will be able to continue. From what I’ve seen and heard, chickens have had a huge increase in popularity, and I can see why. Easy to keep, cheap to buy, and they provide breakfast. A lot better than what my Shepherd leaves behind...”
Nernberg said that Penguin the vocal rooster has done his job and been butchered, and the young roosters will be penned up more in the coop when they start to make a ruckus, which was what they did last year, allowing run time until they are sufficient size to make their way to the dinner table.
“The first year we kept all the roosters until the smallest was big enough as compared to last year as soon as a fella was large enough he was put on the menu board (Natalie didn’t like when her birds name was marked down but she knows that they are serving a purpose). It is an amazing feeling in the fall to have your entire dinner table come from your property, like it used to instead of from a store.”
Aimee Smith did not respond when contacted for comment on the hearing.
Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times