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Resident cries fowl after St. Thomas City Council 'chickens out' on backyard hen project

Jul 29, 2023Jul 29, 2023

With a brand new coop in her backyard, Kay Vaughan is crying fowl, after city council in St. Thomas, Ont. closed the door on allowing backyard hens.

"They chickened out," said Vaughan.

Vaughan and her family converted their tree house after seven of nine council members were on board with a pilot project to allow backyard hens in April 2023.

However, a report from staff with concerns over the avian flu saw them change course Monday night. Staff recommended putting the project on hold for one year.

"Although I’m generally in favour of this, I’m also in favour of deferring it for a year," said Coun. Steve Wookey.

"It's a tough decision, but the reasoning the city has laid out makes sense to me," added Coun. Tara McCaulley.

"I still think it's a dumb idea," said Coun. Gary Clarke, who has been against the idea during the entire discussion.

St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston said the city isn't closing the coop on a potential project, he just said it won't happen right now.

"Many communities since we last discussed it [backyard hens] have stopped the practice," said Preston. "I believe the City of Toronto just removed it completely based on avian flu. We thought we would take caution the same way. Let's delay it for a year while we do a little more research on avian flu, and come back and talk about chickens in a year."

Poultry veterinarian Mike Petrik believes they made the right choice.

"While we're in flux while we're trying to control this disease and trying to get a handle on it, I don't think it's a bad idea to take a step back and take a pause," he said.

Petrik said there have been over 60 million birds put down in North America because of this disease, and over half the cases have been identified in backyard chickens.

"It's extremely contagious," he added. "The virus is actually adapted to waterfowl, so if a turkey or a chicken gets access to either dust, dander, feathers or droppings from an infected duck, she'll pass that virus on which will devastate the poultry."

Vaughan calls the decision "a let down."

"They are just kicking the can down the road," said Vaughan. "Our five kids have now been like a part of this and the process and learning about how to go to city hall about all of these things and how to make change. It took one person [Jim McCoomb, manager of planning services] to shut down the change that could have been positive for the entire city."

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