Urban farmers play chicken with Toronto bylaw

Backyard poultry farming is increasingly popular, but possibly illegal depending on local bylaws.

Backyard chicken farming is catching on across Canada as the emphasis on free-range, organic, cruelty-free, (insert buzzword here) farming but some cities aren't on board.

Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal, and Guelph, Ont. have all approved urban poultry “farms,” but Toronto lags behind, spelling potential problems for a chicken-rental service.

Yes, you read that right. The Stoddart Family Farm in Little Britain, Ont. is pioneering a chicken-rental service for aspiring urban farmers. Its Rent The Chicken project offers hens or incubating eggs, which customers can adopt or sell back.

However, Toronto rejected any proposed change to anti-chicken laws in 2012, resulting in 14 backyard farmers losing their birds and meaning the Stoddart rental plan technically runs afoul of city bylaws.

Rarely-enforced bylaws, though. Farm owner Harry Stoddart says the laws are enforced mostly on a by-complaint basis and the city hasn’t cracked down on any urban farmers… yet. The city’s manger of animal services told the Toronto Star that her department is “actively investigating the business.”

The bylaws mostly exist over noise and hygiene concerns, but urban farming does create another problem too: animal abandonment. Many keen foodies quickly lose interest in their little farms and chicken refugees are dumped at animal rescue services and the like.

A U.S. chicken-rescue owner said that  “stupid foodies… don’t know what they’re getting into,” when they start backyard farms.

The poultry problem is especially pronounced in Montreal, which has seen a flood of stray chickens.

So perhaps renting is the right way to go. If it’s legal, of course.

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