Town wants more public input before scratching out a bylaw

Where does your food come from? Raising chickens is part of knowing just that. Families can grows a lot of their own food.

Airiane Rogers has been pushing for backyard chickens in Lake Cowichan since she first moved to the town five years ago.

At their Aug. 21 Finance and Administration meeting, mayor and council discussed a proposal sent in by Rogers, and several concerns were raised.

Mayor Ross Forrest said that his only concern is with the inevitable growing pains that would come along with allowing backyard chickens.

“If we say we’re to allow backyard chickens, there’ll be some growing pains that go with it and at the present time we don’t have a bylaw officer to be monitoring what is taking place. As it is right now, our administrator is doing most of our bylaw enforcement and I think adding more to that is not beneficial to our organization,” said Forrest.

Councillor McGonigle was concerned that one letter does not represent the desires of the whole town.

“If you’re responding to a single letter, or single applicant, is that a true representation of the desire for that?” asked McGonigle.

He did acknowledge that there are people who already have backyard chickens, and Forrest added that if there are people in town who do have backyard chickens, they must be doing a good job of it because the town has not received any complaints.

Another concern council had was the direction animal husbandry might take if a bylaw allowing backyard chickens was put in place.

“I’m just wondering, do we stop at chickens? Do we allow ducks, geese?” asked chief administrative officer, Joseph Fernandez. “It could go on and on. So I think there’s always problems in any issue.”

Another question, raised by Coun. Bob Day, was the actual benefit of having backyard chickens.

McGonigle spoke to the idea of local sustainability, the 100 mile diet idea, and the benefits of being able to eat what you grow.

“I would like a little more investigation, whether it’s an online survey like Survey Monkey for instance, that’s linked to our Facebook page and put the question out there,” said McGonigle.

Council decided it would hand the issue over to the APC (Advisory Planning Commission) to research and give recommendations on the specifics of things like: how many should be allowed, the size that should be allowable for chicken coops, etc.

These recommendations would then give council the information they need in order to make a decision.

Rogers doesn’t see what the big deal is. She says she proposed that the town allow backyard chickens for a year, and at the end of the year council could decide whether or not it is a good idea to draft a bylaw.

“If they get complaints, then it’s not a good idea,” said Rogers. “That would also be a way to get people engaged. It’s not a hot button issue.”

She adds that she has never seen anything negative in response to this issue.

“People are quick to voice opinions of opposition, and I haven’t seen too much of that yet. I think people don’t care.”

She adds that there probably is not a large percentage of the Lake Cowichan population that would want to take on the responsibility of raising chickens, as they are like pets and need ongoing attention.

“You have to let them out in the morning, you have to feed them, and you can’t go anywhere because you have to be at home at night to let them back in.”

For Rogers, it is also important to let her kids know where their food comes from, and raising chickens is part of that. She says her family grows a lot of their own food.

“Vancouver Island has a food supply shortage,” adds Rogers. “We don’t actually produce much of what we consume. In a natural disaster, we would only have a three day supply.”

She says that although six or 12 eggs per day might not seem like that much of a contribution to a household to some people, that for others it contributes a lot.

“It might not be that much, but at least you are feeding someone . . . and it can offset the cost of food,” said Rogers.

She urges council to look at other cities or towns to see what their struggles have been, and what people can expect. She says she has kept herself abreast with what other municipalities are doing, including Duncan and Nanaimo, and suggests that council adopt Duncan’s policies.

For those with any opinion on the backyard chickens issue, town council would like to hear from you before they make any decisions.