The Reclucktant Activist

Paper at Breakfast


I became an activist yesterday.

I didn’t mean to.

I certainly didn’t plan it.

But nonetheless it happened. And yesterday everyone across the city woke up to this.  Me and my chicken on the front page of the paper in full colour.  Above the fold.  Clearly a slow news day.  Had there been a sale on at the local Giant Tiger or a cat stuck in a tree I’m sure my story would have been relegated to somewhere in the depths of the paper.

As some of you know, I have chickens.  As some of you know, whether this is legal or not in my municipality is questionable.  When I first got my 4 chickens I let all my neighbours know and got a feel for whether they were O.K. with it or not.  No one seemed to care and in fact as far as I could tell they were kind of excited about it.  So I kept the chickens and started building a coop.

I have to admit, even I had reservations about keeping chickens.  I really had no idea what to expect so I had the same concerns the people on city council probably have.  And I had these concerns because I was both misinformed and uneducated on the matter.  As the people on city council probably are.  Who can blame them?  They can’t know everything about everything, right?

The people who argue against having backyard chickens cite disease, noise, smell and general hell breaking loose if people are lawfully allowed to own chickens.  I would like to take this opportunity to address these points for the benefit of both city council and those who wonder about owning chickens themselves.

1.  Disease.

There are those who believe that backyard chickens are disease riddled incubators for Avian flu among other things.  In truth, (as far as I have researched) there has never been any cases of Avian flu among North American backyard chickens.  The Avian Flu rarely occurs, and when it does it shows up in either third world countries or most commonly chicken plants.   Chickens get Avian flu from coming into contact with other chickens or the feces of chickens with Avian flu.  In the case of third world countries, many people who own chickens feed their chickens scraps of raw chicken that are infected with the disease.  These chickens are then allowed to roam around the village infecting other chickens.  Since most backyard chicken farmers I know  neither feed their chickens raw, disease filled chicken meat, nor take them out for play dates with other chickens … I do not think the Avian flu is a threat to our community.  In fact, large groups of chickens together in poor conditions harbour the best breeding ground for Avian Flu.  So backyard chickens are actually the solution, not the problem.

Salmonella is another concern.  Very, very few backyard chickens carry salmonella.  It is extremely rare.  Even rarer is contracting salmonella from your chickens.  If you rub your hands in their poo and then put your fingers in your mouth before washing them there is a chance you’ll get salmonella.    If you eat unwashed fruits or vegetables, improperly prepared meat, own any kind of bird or reptile or eat a raw egg in any dressing, dessert or food … there is also a chance you’ll get salmonella.  In fact, there is a much greater chance you’ll get salmonella from any of these things.  If you’re still concerned, you could simply demand all backyard chickens be vaccinated for salmonella.  Yup.  There is such a thing and yup, it’s possible.

2.  Noise.

I would like to say chickens are silent and most have had their voice boxes removed at birth, but that isn’t the case.  They do make noise.  About the same noise as a few pigeons.  They cluck and make cooing sounds for a few minutes a day.  It’s inaudible unless you’re right beside the chickens.    Chickens have also been known to release a loud BUCKOCK when they’ve finished laying an egg.  They’re kindda proud.  If you can hear the sound of it over the trucks, Harley Davidsons, leaf blowers and barking dogs in my neighbourhood I’ll give you a free half dozen eggs.   Roosters on the other hand, are loud. They really do cock-a-doodle-do at dawn. And they continue it all day long.   I know this because one of the chickens I got turned out to be a Rooster.  After his first sunrise cock-a-doodle-do I got on Kijiji, put up an ad and had given him away to a nice farm in the country within 2 hours.  I believe it is best to ban Roosters in an urban setting.

3.  Smell.

Yeah my chickens smell.  They smell like chickens.  They don’t smell like a poultry farm because I only have 4 of them.  Basically they smell like a dirt road mixed with pine shavings.  Clearly not as appealing as dog crap on a damp day, but nice nonetheless.  If I were to own 20 or 30 chickens I’m sure there would be smell associated with them.  So I absolutely support a limit on the number of chickens allowed in an urban setting.  Many municipalities cite 6 as an acceptable number.  I would have to agree with this number as an appropriate number for an urban setting.

Finally I’d like to address a few points of concern that were made in my local paper.  One fellow was genuinely concerned that if backyard chickens were allowed, even in a limited number, all hell would break loose.  I mean, what if every person in a town got 4 chickens.  What then??  There would be mayhem!  Neighbourhoods would stink!  The disease!  The noise!!   To that I say, um … what if every person owned 4 dogs?

Cats, dogs, pigeons, and pigs.  They’re all allowed in the city of Hamilton, in unlimited numbers no less.  Just not chickens.  Not even one.  New York, Vancouver and London are just 3 of the cities that allow backyard chickens.  These are not hick towns, filled with people dropping from disease and tumbleweeds blowing down their streets.  They are progressive, world class, influential cities.

These cities have done what make sense.  What I propose should be done.   Allow residents to own backyard chickens in a limited number.  I love my chickens.  My neighbours love my chickens.  The only people who don’t love my chickens are the people who know nothing about my chickens.

I became an activist yesterday.

I didn’t mean to.

I certainly didn’t plan it.

But nonetheless it happened.



Excellent presentation for council in Springfield, Missouri where backyard chickens have proven to be a success.



If you live in Hamilton … please sign this petition to  help me keep my chickens.  


  1. kristin says:

    I wish so much that Edmonton allowed backyard chickens! It’s so important to know where your food comes from and it’s so satisfying to produce your own. I’ve had chickens (when living on a farm) and they’re the most mild-mannered of all farm animals. They talk to each other (as all birds do), but it’s nothing that’s as irritating as a neighbour’s dog barking for an hour (and if we can live with that, we can live with chickens).

    And as a side note, they’re not roaming around the neighbourhood freely, digging and pooping wherever the heck they like as many cats do (which is apparently completely okay with everybody. People are a-okay with their neighbour accidentally grabbing a piece of cat poop while weeding. There’s no disease or sick that could possibly come from that. That’s OKAY with everybody. All the scratching and digging and peeing and pooping in someone else’s yard. We’re all FINE WITH THAT. But we don’t want chickens around, being safely contained in one person’s yard. Oh, heavens NO. (sorry; that got a little personal)

  2. Julie shinnick says:

    Can’t help to wonder what the fella thinks of all of this….it was his doing in the first place……..
    There is nothing wrong with having 6 chooks in the backyard. We had them when the kids were little and they loved them! And when they passed away from old age it was also a good lesson.
    Education that is sorely needed for the people who have no education on this matter!
    YOU …. GO ….. EDUCATE….. Chicken power!

  3. Shauna says:

    Awesome post! We’re fighting this issue in our neighborhood too. Although we’re not completely banned, the 50 foot set-back from any home including your own eliminates the majority of people who could own them. We live in a very progressive neighborhood and we’re hoping to get this law re-written soon. It will happen, hopefully sooner than later.

  4. Roxanne says:


    For what it’s worth, I posted a comment after the online newspaper article in support of chickens (and you).

    Good luck with this. Give the Feathery Girls scritches for me (or whatever it is that chickens like …)

  5. Natalie says:

    I support you and your wonderful chickens! Good luck at the meeting!

  6. Dionne says:

    Step1. Fill a basket of eggs and put them out in the sun.
    Step2. Leave them to rot perfectly for 7 days (Nov 15)
    Step3. Take the basket to the meeting.
    Step4. The rest ….will make the headlines (again)!
    😉 Good Luck CHIC!

  7. Pigs are allowed in unlimited numbers? Now, I do think that could get smelly. . .
    You should ta]k to whoever got the city on board with pigs and see what their plan of attack was.
    There are backyard coups here in Phoenix, Arizona

  8. BTLover2 says:

    I support you, Karen, and all those who wish to do a little backyard hen raising. I think it is important to have rules/guidelines/parameters for doing such a thing, but I don’t believe it is any different from owning dogs/cats/etc. For example, in the last town I lived in, you were not allowed to own more than two dogs. There are licenses to be had, vaccinations to be given, etc. Meet these requirements and you’re good to go — same should be said of chickens. Keep a proper coop, keep it properly cleaned, follow whatever rules are in place (or should be in place) and we can all live happily ever after.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Sherry! From what I can gather, people aren’t actually opposed to chickens. What they’re opposed to is change. ~ karen

  9. Susan says:

    People are Stoopid.

    Where do they think their food comes from?

    What about Victory Gardens.

    You go girl!!

  10. GiniGL says:

    Oh I SO agree with Tess, and you about the “Occupy” protesters (oh don’t get me started…) taking a clue from the BofA issue. I am completely behind you in this, and if it would help to have a non-Hamilton-er write a letter, I will do it. Your link is on my FB page as we speak.

  11. Susie Heller says:

    I support you right to grow food. Chickens are fun to raise and supply great yokes. Here in Washington State many cities allow back yard poultry. You go girl as one Chick to another.

  12. Tess says:

    It took one female college student to take on Bank of America’s ridiculous debit card charge. I suspect you are the proper champion for urban chickens everywhere. Wish I could attend.

    • Karen says:

      Tess – I think the “Occupy” protesters could take a few cues from her. She had an issue, she protested, she did something about it. She didn’t sit in a park refusing to speak to the media about what her cause even was. I still don’t know what those protesters are protesting! Thank you for your support. 🙂 ~ karen

  13. Nancy says:

    Oh No Karen..I was so afraid that this would happen..I tried looking the article up online but I’m not having much luck for some reason..good luck in your battle and please keep us informed..I think we have all enjoyed hearing you chicken adventures..Hugs for you and the girls!!!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nancy – Don’t you worry about me. And if you click on “woke up to this” on my blog post it takes you right to the article. ~ karen

  14. Steph says:

    First, let me say I’m totally with you on this. I fully support a controlled approach to urban hen raising. Total support here. Can you feel the but?

    Maybe I’m still not used to your brand of sarcasm and humor, but did you really not see this coming at all? I mean, you have a fairly successful blog, and you made no bones about your chicken situation. To me, the only variable here was time, and it seems that your time is now. You became an activist when you accepted the baby chickens on Easter morning.

    Good luck!

    • Karen says:

      Steph – Maybe you misunderstood. I wasn’t “outed”. I wasn’t “found out” and complained about. I was asked to do a story for the newspaper and agreed to it. I’ve always had a plan for if the situation ever arose that I’d need to get rid of my chickens. I would send them to a friend’s farm. And when I got the chicks I made damn sure that all of my neighbours were on board. The only reason for a bylaw officer to come knocking on your door is if someone around you complains about something. I wasn’t going to get any complaints and I knew that. I’ve outed myself, not the other way around in order to shed light on the situation. ~ karen

  15. Gale says:

    In my neighborhood, I walk by this cute little house and never noticed their 4 chickens until one happened to move quickly and squawked. No smell at all and the dogs lunging at fences barking from other yards were far more annoying.

  16. Robyn says:

    You Go Girl!

  17. LoriD says:

    Oh, I love it! I live in your area and will happily support your cause. I too am fighting city hall right now (my issue has to do with recycling bins). I’m an excellent letter-writer.

  18. Ruth says:

    very well put and if I lived there I would sign the petition to keep chickens. Good luck and may sanity prevail!

  19. Glenda says:

    You send me an email address and I’ll speak up for you. My neighbors have chickens and I love to hear their clucking in the morning when I’m working in my garden. I don’t know if my city allows chickens or not, but really if people are allowed to have 4 dogs in their yards with the resultant stink, you should at least be allowed to have your four or 5 chickies!

  20. Lynn says:

    Oh good grief. What the bleep is wrong with people? Have they SEEN Cheese Whiz’s beautiful blue eggs? Clearly not. What does the Fella say about this? More importantly what can we (your readers) do to help? Chicks unite.

  21. Erin says:

    You are right that misinformation and lack of education are at the heart of this type of ban. I grew up raising chickens. We lived in a somewhat rural area, so we didn’t have the by-law concerns. At our peak I think we had a flock of about 350 – 400 birds. Even with that many I don’t ever remember a single problem with sounds, smells or disease. My dad was a stickler for cleanliness, I’m sure thats why. We had them all broken out between 5 pens, and never had more than one rooster per pen. Good luck with keeping your chickens. They truly are a joy.

  22. I can think of no one that will be a better advocate for the backyard chicken! I love the tale (tail?) of your chickens. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of backyard chickens and informing us all.

  23. Carol S says:

    Well said, Karen. Can I get an amen or a hearty BUCKOCK?! =)

  24. Karla says:

    Way to go Karen. The “problems” caused by backyard chickens pale in comparison to those caused by large-scale chicken plants. Not to mention the quality of life for the chickens. Yes, I believe chickens deserve a good quality of life! Does that make me weird…?

  25. If the UNITED STATES Post Office allows baby chicks to be mail (out of Missouri) what does a urban community thinks they have a right to ban the growth of domestic animals (or pets)….
    Maybe you should tell them that you are the leader of a cult and you need them for your religious worship….that would make their heads spin…..LOL

  26. Susan says:

    It’s always the same: People who do not have all the facts are the ones doing the complaining!
    Enjoy your chickens.

  27. Jules says:

    WELL SAID Karen! You go girl…! Give em hell!

  28. amy says:

    They allow pigs in unlimited numbers but not chickens in limited numbers? That seems crazy to me, but I might be biased because pigs give me nightmares. But anyway, I hope everything works out for you, good luck!

  29. Brittany says:

    We can have them in Baltimore (and in fact I do!) but only up to 4, no roosters, and you have to be licensed. We even offer free disease testing.

    Of course, we might not fall into the same thriving metropolis is category that you put the other cities into =D

  30. Sharmila says:

    Way to go Karen too bad I am not in your neighborhood. You have done a great job addressing all the aspects of the issue. I totally agree with you in every aspect… I hope your town will allow backyard chickens… so everyone can enjoy fresh eggs… Now about being an activist… that’s good thing…Let’s vote for backyard chickens! Finally I love the picture on the newspaper it looks very artsy…

  31. jane says:

    is that really what your breakfast looks like? its so civilized!

    • Karen says:

      Jane – Not in a million years. Well … sometimes on the weekend it looks like that. Anyhow, I set up the shot to create the feeling of people having breakfast and looking at the paper. I did end up eating the cereal and the toast though. Gave the chickens the leftover milk from the cereal. ~ karen!

  32. Lisa says:

    I live in a very rural area of NC. Just about everyone has a couple if not several chickens. Some of them run free and are beloved pets that have learned not to leave their yard.
    Is there a possibility that one of your larger poultry farms in the area could be supporting the ban for fear of losing money?
    BTW I just found your blog a few days ago, still reading back, but am really enjoying it!

  33. Thera says:

    I fully support you and hope they change the by-laws. I too, as I have said before, would love to have chickens, but they’re not allowed here either (another city in Ontario).

  34. Sister,

    I feel so bad that you even have to deal with this. Your blog posts about building your coop was what got me connected with you. You have chickens out of love for them and to provide good clean healthy food for yourself.

    You have written an eloquent and well spoken piece here which should be sent to the editor of your local paper. And maybe a copy to the TV news people. Get them on your side, now.

    God bless you and the chickens and thank goodness I live where this is not an issue. BTW-when we were looking to buy a house 3 years ago, the most important thing I was looking for was a place with no restrictions against livestock. Even places that are quite rural can have them, you know.

    Good luck to you and the chickies….

  35. Angela N says:

    As someone that grew up in suburbia with chickens in the back yard(ones that would sit atop our fence until we got home from school), I just don’t see the issue. I could totally understand if you decided to start an egg business in your back yard and had rows and rows of chickens. But really???? What is the big deal???

  36. CBuffy says:

    Good for you Karen! The government doesn’t really need that much access to my backyard anyway. As long as it is a small flock (I agree with a limit of 6…) and no BOYS! (Boys. Ick. Ok, now I feel like a 6 year old setting the rules for our club…) Likely to result in healthier chickens AND people! Win. Win.

  37. Cindy Marlow says:

    Good job, you! If you are successful in your campaign (and even if you are not) I am jumping on the bandwagon and preparing information for my own tight-assed city council (did I just write that in a public forum?). My neighbor across the street owns 20 chickens and I’m not allowed to own any? Of course, she lives on 300 acres and I only have 1.22 but WTH? Where is the fairness in that? In the meantime, she shares so I have that. And a renewed desire to take on City Hall.

  38. Nicole says:

    Oh Karen, I support you a 100%! I hope they vote in favour. I have become quite fond of your chicken stories. One of them likes to cuddle? How cute is that! I didn’t know they had such character. I agree with you about dogs making more noise, there are quite a few neighbours who let their dogs bark and bark incessantly.

    Adele and Amy Winehouse, huh? Them chickens have good musical taste!

  39. Anita says:

    Oh I know I am going to get some nasty comments for this but, most childern’s daycare locations harbour more germs then any 4 chickens could. Has city hall ever been to a gas station restroom??? I apologize for offending anyone, but come on, get a grip.

  40. magali says:

    If they knew how many people were grossed out my the idea of your chicken’s fresh eggs, people wouldn’t be worried that everyone would get backyard chickens! Not to mention that the majority of people won’t be willing to spend four months building a coop or the money to buy one.

  41. Jen says:

    “The only people who don’t love my chickens are the people who know nothing about my chickens.” I love that line. So true.

    I propose a nice little Coop tour….with a little wreath on the front…Adele playing inside….and with something that looks like it belongs on the inside of House and Home….or at least a “Pimp My Coop” episode….I can’t see how they will ban chickens after that!

  42. Go Karen! I agree on every point – especially that well looked after chickens owned in small numbers are far better for everyone than factory chickens.

    As for what would happen if everyone owned four dogs… hmm, I might have to start campaigning to ban dogs around here.

  43. carol van beek says:

    I live in Los Angeles and chickens are allowed here. Six are supposed to be the limit, but how many are actually in someone’s backyard is anyone’s guess. There is even a business in my neighborhood called Urban Farmers that will custom build a chicken coop for you. Tell that to your city council people.

  44. marilyn says:

    you can do it!

  45. Amie says:

    They do eat their own poo though… the chickens, not your neighbors…

  46. Lori says:

    You go girl

  47. itchbay says:

    I’ve been on a chicken quest since we moved in here. I have the plans for building a coop and have even marked out the part of the yard where it will go. Maybe this winter, I’ll get down to the business of construction.

    Our town allows 3 hens, no roosters. Everyone tells me to get 4 anyway, since no one will be able to tell how many I have unless they look, and an even number will help prevent any pecking order issues.

  48. Your Moment Has Come, you are a natural-born activist.

    Who wouldn’t BUCKOCK at a great achievement.

    Gabriel García Márquez said old women smelt like chickens too. This thought haunts my maturity.

  49. sofia says:

    Go you. Being an activist is a good thing.

    I am one.


  50. Marti says:

    Wow. The Art of Being an Activist. Well done.

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