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. Miranda says:


    What was the final outcome for you?

    I was just hit with a “Curtesy Notice of Code Violation” enforcement letter on Saturday. It has me crazed! Our whole county can have hens except for my little beach town. The verbiage on our town ordinance says the following:

    It shall be unlawful for any person to keep any animals, fowl or reptiles within the limits of the city with the exception of household pets.

    (b) It shall be a violation of this Code for any person to permit such household pets to run at large at any time.

    So they sent me a 8×11 photo of my house from a new dock that was installed at least 80+ yards across the water from my home. It’s blurry but you can see my 5 ladies walking across my back yard. Apparently the inspector was there to sign off on the final inspection of my neighbors new dock, looked across the water & saw the ladies.

    The warning was:


    Now, this is my backyard. I choose not to have a fence across my sea wall as I live here specifically to be on the water, etc.. My sides are fenced in. We aren’t allowed fences across our front yards. The hens do not go in my front yard at all. They have never been outside of my yard & only cross the backyard because it seems they like whatever bugs my other fence has by it.

    I’m afraid to call & question them because I don’t want code enforcement showing up. I have 15 days to “correct the violation”

    My hens are obviously our pets, we love them. Our dog even loves them. My neighbors love them. I’m afraid they will say fowl isn’t a pet, it’s fowl & we have to get rid of them.

    It’s come up at city council meetings back around your time & one of the votes stated that if they allowed hens, the run off from their poo will pollute our waterways. :/ That’s the most absurd comment ever.

    Any suggestions?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Miranda. Sorry about what’s happening to you! Nothing has yet happened with my town’s chicken situation. They have twice voted not to even look at considering allowing chickens. I have a friend in another city who was forced to rehome her chickens after finding herself in a situation similar to yours. She goes to visit them regularly and spends a lot of her time inundating the local council with information to offset their misconceptions about chickens. She also created an online petition and did a few newspaper interviews. I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you other than feeling out what your community support is and then if it’s good, fighting the council with facts. Good luck! ~ karen

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  3. Nicole says:

    Pigs smell, I have worked in the neighbors pig barn, it can get nasty. If pigeons are ok, how about smaller chickens?? What is the difference.

  4. Nicole says:

    I seen your article and I know about the rules in Hamilton/Dundas. Dogs and cats are cleaner??
    I have 7 chickens, no rooster, they are quiet, there is no smell, they are perfect pets, with the added bonus of eggs. What is the green bin for anyways, its for compost, perfect for chicken waste.
    Council needs to worry about other things.
    Pigs? You can keep pigs? Who knew.

    • Karen says:

      Hah! Yup. Pigs. I have a hunch the rules are going to change. If they don’t … council had better watch out. :) ~ karen

  5. Sylvia says:

    We have the same uneducated council here in Windsor, Ontario. They won’t even discuss the issue regardless of the amount of people who turn out and their education, including a well know doctor with facts on the side of chickens. I plan to go ahead anyway for many reasons but mostly for my health. I have two autoimmune diseases and parkinson’s disease, no way do I want to eat chicken prison eggs and I feel I have the right to produce my own food just like I do with all my fruit and vegetables. The best part is chickens are wonderful as pets too. There are a number of people with chickens in Windsor but they are so quiet, the neighbours do not even know. I hoped to get help building a coop last summer but it will be 2012 no matter what. I’ve decided to get help from students looking to do their volunteer hours required for high school graduation in Ontario. Perhaps I can help educate in the process. Looking forward to reading more about your chicken journey.

  6. Dru says:

    We kept illegal chickens. Then we moved to the country where no one cares. But when we lived where the girls were deemed illegal, Homer always said “really? I can keep 4 pit bulls but not 4 laying hens?!”. It might not be an effective argument in a court of law, but it sure gave pause to any who questioned the safety and security of keeping a few hens. I’d love to see what the publication “Morbidity and Mortality” (a medical journal published weekly that chronicles how people pass on) has written about death by domesticated chicken in North America in the last 100 years..

  7. Kim says:

    I live in Australia, Queensland, Brisbane, Suburbia to be exact…my neighbour has chickens on her 1000 sq metre block. I grew up in the country (50 acres & 700 acres) we always had chickens & my parents still have chickens. Chooks are great!! Great for getting rid of the vege scraps from the kitchen, great for creating poo for the garden, great for making yummy eggs to eat. They are lovely animals that don’t do much at all, certainly they do not harm anyone nor do they make enough noise to be offensive. (Roosters are far too noisy, I’m not talking about roosters) Here is the link to the Brisbane City Councils chicken policy whic allows many people to have chickens within reason -
    We should all have a couple of chickens I reckon. If we had a larger back yard I’d definitely have them!! Good Luck, I really hope you win.

  8. Kristen S says:

    Hi Karen,
    I just wanted to share a Toronto Life article on some of the Torontonian chicken keepers also fighting the back yard coop fight

    Good luck! I fully support you and all the back yard coopers!

  9. Ginger Lange says:

    Besides being an activist, you’re something of a comedian. I loved your story, and it just made me all the more determined to have myself some dirty, noisy, disease ridden chickens:)

  10. Trissi V. says:

    I just looked into Albuquerque’s chicken ordinance and you are allowed up to 15 chickens, that may include 1 rooster (one of which lives a street behind me…I don’t care for him, I think he’s rather hateful).

    A house one street north of us had the most beautiful fluffy chickens…you wouldn’t know that he had them except for the fact he would let them (one at a time) run around their long grasses in their fenced in front yard. I was running by, had stopped to look; the guy acted like I was going to steal his chicken (apparently, runners are notorious chicken nappers).

    Good luck with the meeting. :-)

    • Karen says:

      Trissi V. – Geez – thanks for the warning. I’ll have to keep my eyes out for chicken runners around here. I wonder what kind of chickens the guy has. Could be Cochins or Frizzles I suspect. I love a fluffy chicken. ~ karen

  11. rebecca gostin says:

    I became an activist for my three chickens this summer too. Unlike your neighbors, I had some who didn’t like them, and I live in a HOA neighborhood. I had to petition my neighbors to be able to keep them. I needed a 2/3 yes vote. 45 houses: 30 yes, 15 no. I wrote the amendment to allow chickens, no more than 6, must be inclosed, yaddy yaddy. I had 29 yes vote. 16 no. Last week I had to give my 3 girls to my good friend who had 3 other chickens on a large property. They are now happily free ranging and living a deluxe life there. I’m super sad however and miss my girls. My county allows chickens, but my neighborhood does not. Good luck with everything. I sure hope you get to keep your girls. Chickens need love too!

  12. Daphne says:

    Here in Holland the Avian flu “happened” some years ago. Yes, some chicken got sick, but no; they didn’t spread it. Avian flu is spread by “flying” birds, pooping while flying and infecting animals on the ground that way. Chickens don’t fly. Books say chickens fly, but if you ever seen a chicken “fly”, you might have noticed the chicken is more like a feathered canonball. They end up in trees and on roofs every now and then but they don’t fly over other peoples property.
    I don’t think hens make a lot of noise. Not at all more then playing children. Roosters are the ones that are really loud. Too much testosteron screaming to get out. I totally understand if neighbours complain about roosters, but hens?
    And the smell? Dogs smell a lot more. A chicken itself does not stink. If the chicken has a clean bed and the bottom of the coop is clean and dry the chicken just does not smell.

    Weird they pick chickens as “dangerous species”. Rabbits and cats are a much greater risk when it comes to spreading diseases. Kids playing on grass can get a worm infection if a dog or cat not properly de-wormed pooped in the grass. Pregnant women can’t clean a cat’s litter box because of the big health risks.

    I’m pro-chicken. I have 11 hens and 3 roosters walking around and they are a delight. I hope everything turns out for the best for your feathered friends!
    Sorry for the not-so-good-English. ;)

    • Karen says:

      Daphne – Thanks! So far so good with the chickens. And, your English was perfect. Frighteningly perfect! ~ karen

      • Daphne says:

        Finally I found your website again! Added it to favourites, got lost somewhere in a weird microsoft process. I now added it again. Twice. Got lots of catch up reading to do. Frighteningly perfect English. That’s scary. ;)

  13. Linda says:

    At least I haven’t heard of a few chickens killing anyone unlike some other particular animals that are always in the news and no one has banned them. Good luck to you and your chickens!

  14. KittyCardea says:

    Good. More people need to know about chickens. I hate that I can’t have any here. Since my son and I are having to live with my mom, and what she says goes, I wouldn’t be allowed to have any even if the city allowed it. She won’t even discuss it. *head/desk* So, no chickens, and therefore no fresh, free eggs for us.

  15. Brenda j says:

    You go Chicken Woman!! We oughta make you a cape with a cracked egg on it. Funny right?
    There will always be those who blame the problems of the world on neighbors or that which they are ignorant of. I`ve a pair a couple of doors down, who blame their neighbors for the water that leaks into their basement when it rains. Yet…those being blamed have done nothing to deserve the attention. The Blamers haven`t even considered the ever-large and growing Red Maple on their own front lawn with protruding and extending roots as a culprit. So easy to raise noise about others. I agree with limiting…only I would like to limit the amount of noisy neighbors. LOL… Im not kidding. Really…kids on one side, partiers a few doors to the right of me, leakies to the left and I`m stuck in the middle with you! Help me! I`m on a roll.
    Brenda in Oshawa

    • Karen says:

      LOL. I’ve lucked out Brenda w/ my neighbours. And I know it! No partiers. At all! O.K., every once in a while the guy next to me and drunk/slur/sings Pearl Jam songs with his friends at 2 in the morning, but they’re just havin’ fun and it’s only once a year or so. ~ karen

  16. Bols says:

    Keeping my fingers crossed!

  17. Alyson says:

    I wrote a book on this subject called “Chooks in the City”…alot of people think it’s a kids book, but it’s more of a how-to with recipes for egg gluts. All the council by-laws seem to stem from a time when people kept chickens for food and didn’t much care about their quality of life – archaic!

  18. Laura Gentry says:

    In Seattle, we’re allowed to have 8 chickens, no roosters. It sounds like you got lucky with the noise level of your chickens, because when ours lay eggs it sounds like the world is ending. But neighbors can definitely be bought off with eggs, so it all works out.

  19. Elen says:

    Okay. I clucked about this in my Feed Finds today. Good luck! (Thursday, Nov. 10)

  20. Eleni says:

    Idiots! I’d love to throw eggs at them at the meeting…

    What caused all this? You neighbors were ok with them, how did the city find out about them?

    Good luck winning this!

    P.S. We used to live in a two story building with the landlord on the top floor. His vegetable garden had chicken (and occasionally turkeys). I had no problem with them…even the rooster, though he made us freak out and laugh at the same time every dawn -the sound of a village in the city. One morning I woke up mortified because I didn’t wake up to his cuckle…The landlord sadly confessed it was the end of the rooster (sadly in a pot) because the neighborhood complained to him about the noise. No official complaint, they just gave him a hard time… :(

  21. Dru says:

    Backyard chickens are legal in Baltimore.

    The suburban neighborhood we lived allowed 3 pit bulls but no chickens. We moved.

  22. KiwiKat says:

    We have recently had hens move in over the back fence (about 6 feet from my bedroom window – the one my bed is next to). There are (I think) 4 or 5 of them and they gently croon away to themselves (except when laying an egg, when they get a little noisier)…here’s the link to our local bylaw –—bylaws/bylaw-documents/bylaw-documents/Chapter-13-Keeping-of-Animals,-Poultry-and-Bees-2007.pdf – GOOD LUCK!!!

  23. Janelle says:

    Good cluck – I mean, luck. It may help to look at the regulations in other areas to offer as suggestions (and to counter some of the paranoia). For example, limit the number of chickens according to the density of the homes in the area, or according to the square footage of each individual property. If you can show that other jurisdictions (particularly bigger, denser urban areas) are having success with backyard chickens, your argument will be that much stronger.

  24. Ashlyn says:

    I hope you are able to convince them to allow it. This is so sad. :(

  25. Janet in Dallas says:

    Our neighbors have two chickens in a small coop about three feet away from our shared fence. I only know this because they told me (And they asked me to chickensit for them one time. That’s chickenSIT. Add another h and I’d have some weird neighbors.) Anyway, if I didn’t already know the chickens were there, I would have no idea the chickens they were there. The are quiet and not at all smelly.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Janet. Sigh. I know. It’s hard to convince council of this sort of thing. And frankly, the people who object to it are the sort of people who would object to anything if you gave them the chance. ~ karen

  26. Rebecca says:

    For your argument’s sake, you may want to know that chickens are also legal in Chicago and Evanston, IL (home of Northwestern University). Good luck. This is a righteous cause, in my humble opinion.

  27. Kaytie @ GardenKitchenHome says:

    Good luck! We’ll be supporting you from Philly!

  28. Pati says:

    Urban Chicken Owners UNITE !!!

  29. erikka cox says:

    We’ve been researching chicken ownership… & now I need to research the laws regarding it in my area! Thanks for the info & good luck to you & your chickens!

  30. Sarah says:

    Way to go! From my experience, the majority of ‘chicken activists’ are just as ‘reclucktant’ as you are.

    You might enjoy a video I made to open the debate here in Winnipeg:

  31. karenagain says:

    Good luck Karen. I really hope this all works out for you. It’s very much in your favour that your neighbours are cool with them. I wish my neighbour on the east had chickens, but I’ll call bylaw on the west neighbour if I so much as see chicken wire in her hands and a light bulb going off above her head.

  32. erin hall {i can craft that} says:

    I thought you lived more north of me but I guess not! Though I am Waterdown and Still dont know what area you live in.
    I would love to have backyard chickens some day. This is just another point of proof on how messed up and old school Hamilton is. Maybe one day we can progress as a city into I dont know the twenty first century.
    I can not make the meeting but I will facebook this for fellow hamiltonians. Also I am going to give my opinion to a local councilor who happens to be a friend of my parents and ex farmer.

    • Karen says:

      Erin – I appreciate all the help I can get. I don’t even know how to best prepare the 5 minute speech I would have to give! In my opinion, this is kind of useless. The recommendations have been made and I’m not convinced the councillors will actually be taking public opinion into considering. Which is kindda sad. :( ~ karen

  33. Sandra Kikawa says:

    You go girl! Do it for all the urban chickens everywhere!

  34. Gig says:

    My city, Apple Valley California, allows 6 chickens. Granted, we are not a hugh metropolis and there is other sillyness. All their rules & regs are on line if you need a starting place or an example.

  35. [email protected] knack says:

    BRAVO! I too have chickens in a semi-urban area…I hope noone ever gives me any problems. Very proud of you, someone who stands up for themselves…

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