Urban hen bylaw comes home to roost in Russell

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A column by Tom Van Dusen

After some scratching and pecking, Russell Township councillors have implemented one of the few Urban Hen bylaws east of enlightened Kingston — possibly the only one — and congratulations are well deserved.

It’s an example of municipal legislators who actually got crackin’ with a measure that won’t cost an arm and a leg — make that a wing — something ratepayers actually want, that’s good for them especially in the COVID-19 era of wanting to secure food sources.

Even if on smaller properties the right to keep laying hens in the yard just like our forefathers — and mothers – is being implemented in Russell on a trial basis, it’s a move in the right direction and particularly timely. C-19 is making folks edgy and skittish, and suspicious and dubious of big commercial food networks. Local food rules right now.

And when it comes to nutritious basic food, a lot of people including me think first of the common chicken egg … preferably with a side of bacon.

In recent months, I’ve taken to buying my eggs right from the farmer to guarantee freshness … not that I’m about to take it a step further and set up a coop in North Russell as my brothers have over the years, their properties unhindered by size and location restrictions which are part of the new bylaw.

Every member of council, from cock-of-the-walk Mayor Pierre Leroux, to sometimes ruffled Councillor Cindy Saucier, is clucking happily about the new hen house law which had residents flocking to public meetings in July.

Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux and a photo of a rooster competing in the poultry show at a recent edition of the South Mountain Fair. Urban roosters are not permitted under Russell’s new bylaw, only hens. Zandbergen photos, Nation Valley News

During the council meeting Monday where the bylaw was passed, the mayor crowed about the tremendous participation in a survey to gauge public interest in the initiative; there was something like 425 responses with more than 70 per cent in favour of a limit of five hens per yard depending on size.

Saucier made no bones about the fact she’s interested in having chickens on her Russell Village property which is large enough to meet bylaw requirements. However, in the 12-month pilot project only seven permits will be issued in Russell Village, seven in Embrun, three in Marionville, and three in Limoges, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Although not yet finalized, each permit will carry a charge of about $25 to make the program as accessible as possible … just enough to cover basic administrative costs.

Saucier said there should be little surprise at the popularity of the project. It’s what people have been waiting for to feel more self-reliant during crippling COVID times.

Councillors Andre Brisson and Mike Tarnowski suggested a crash course to help newbee backyard chicken farmers manage their birds.

While he admitted to winging it because he has no experience in the matter, Tarnowski wondered what would happen to spent chickens whose laying days are over. The matter of disposal will be pursued with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.

You can be sure that introducing Urban Hens will cause some ruffled feathers … and not just on the chickens. Critics have already indicated an aversion to noise, odour, predators and the general nuisance factor. There won’t be any cockadoodledoo’ing at dawn because roosters aren’t welcome.

All successful hen permit applicants must notify their neighbours in writing, with any flaps to be smoothed over by bylaw enforcement. Hopefully, the program won’t lead to an increase in egging incidents.

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