The politics of backyard pecking orders: St. Albert family calls for larger at-home chicken flocks

·2 min read
St. Albert's Taphorn family have three chickens: Doodles, T-Rex and Henny Potter. The family wants the number of hens permitted in backyard flocks raised from four to six. (Submitted by Heidi Taphorn - image credit)
St. Albert's Taphorn family have three chickens: Doodles, T-Rex and Henny Potter. The family wants the number of hens permitted in backyard flocks raised from four to six. (Submitted by Heidi Taphorn - image credit)

A ruthless pecking order in backyard chicken flocks has one St. Albert family wondering if city council laid an egg in crafting its current bylaw.

Heidi Taphorn and her nine-year-old daughter Alexandra spoke to St. Albert city council on March 15 about current bylaws around keeping hens in a backyard. The Taphorns want the maximum number of chickens allowed raised from four to six.

The Taphorns argue the larger flock will reduce the risk of a hen getting hurt by others higher up in the pecking order. Also, a larger flock can keep warmer through the cold Alberta winter.

"You could introduce more than one and it would spread out the bullying," Alexandra said. "And also in the winters, there's more body heat and you would get more eggs."

After Alexandra's beloved hen Anastasia died of a seizure, only three chickens remained in the Taphorn flock: Doodles, T-Rex and Henny Potter.

Last summer, the family adopted a new chicken, Marshmallow, to bring their total back up. But Marshmallow soon found herself the victim of bullying by her new flock.

"The first day, she already had some blood on her, and by a couple days, they already pecked her neck," Alexandra said on CBC's Edmonton AM on Tuesday.

After their new chicken was nearly pecked to death, the Taphorns built a small coop for her so the flock could see Marshmallow, but not peck her. But plan did little to improve the rocky relationship.

Their concern for Marshmallow led the Taphorns to find a new home for her.

Jeremy, Robyn, Alexandra and Jade Taphorn pose with their hens.
Jeremy, Robyn, Alexandra and Jade Taphorn pose with their hens.(Submitted by Heidi Taphorn)

Heidi Taphorn argues that raising the number of hens allowed would bring St. Albert in line with other municipalities. In Edmonton, approved urban hen sites must keep between three and six chickens.

"I'm feeling pretty hopeful," Taphorn said. "I think council was pretty receptive that there's some issues with how to manage a flock when they have such a small limit on the number of hens."

St. Albert council intend to discuss amendments to the bylaw on Tuesday.