Urban Agriculture Kingston

Promoting food sustainability in an urban centre

Laying Hens in Kingston Backyards?

Article in the Whig Standard

The following is a link to our article in the Kingston Whig Standard concerning Backyard Hens and below it is the article.  We will be having a series of Public meetings concerning Backyard Hens at the following locations and times, please come out and show your support.

March 25, 7:00-8:30PM Pittsburgh Library, 80 Gore Road, upstairs (non-accessible)
March 27, 1:00-3:30PM Isabel Turner Library, 935 Gardiners Road, Room A (accessible). Live Hens outside.
April 8, 7:00-8:30PM Central Library, 130 Johnson Street, Delahaye Room, 3rd Floor (accessible).


Is city council chicken?

The City of Kingston's web-site boasts, "We are strongly committed to the goal of making Kingston Canada's most sustainable city."

If our community is truly dedicated to the idea of environmental sustainability, then the time has come for city council to allow citizens to keep small numbers of backyard hens for the purpose of household egg consumption.

Many major North American cities, including Vancouver, Victoria, New York, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles, together with Ontario communities such as Niagara Falls, Brampton and Guelph, allow the small-scale raising of hens. Now it's

Kingston's turn to join this positive and growing trend.

In the decades after the Second World War, many urban and suburban communities across Canada and the U.S. instituted laws to distance people from their then-unfashionable rural roots.

In recent years, many of us have begun to realize that maintaining a close connection to our food supply is a positive choice -- a way to a healthier and more ecologically sustainable lifestyle.

Farmers' markets, including the weekly one in downtown Kingston, have since experienced a huge revival, people are gardening more, and communities across Canada are changing decades-old laws forbidding the keeping of hens.

In fact, hens have existed in cities since the dawn of time and continue to thrive in communities around the world to this day. The benefits of raising them include:

* Fresh, healthy and delicious home-grown eggs, free of pesticides and antibiotics;

* Reduced municipal solid waste as hens consume table scraps and other organic waste;

* Reduced backyard pest populations as hens consume weeds and bugs;
* Opportunities to teach children about food sources and responsible animal care; and

* The addition of great "poultry pets" to families -- hens are people-friendly, nonaggressive and always entertaining to watch.

People tend to fear the unknown, and hens are no exception. Most Kingstonians have no prior experience in raising or even living near backyard hens. This has set alarm bells ringing.

Concerns about noise, odours, disease, and the attraction of predators and vermin to backyards have all been effectively addressed by the hundreds of cities and towns that have already allowed backyard hens.

From a noise perspective, hens are quiet and docile creatures, certainly much quieter than the barking dogs many of us have in our neighbourhoods. (Roosters on the other hand are much louder, but are not needed for hens to be egg layers, and do not belong in cities.)

Potential predators such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks are a non-issue if coops and runs are properly constructed, and hens are "confined to quarters" during nighttime hours.

In terms of animal pollution, hens are more sanitary than most pets. Unlike dog and cat waste, hen waste can be transformed into rich garden fertilizer that is high in nitrogen -- eliminating the need for expensive and potentially harmful commercial fertilizers. Four hens might weigh nine kilograms, compared to a Labrador Retriever's 30 kilograms, so the waste that hens produce is easily managed. Coops need to be cleaned on a regular basis (every other week), and the manure needs to be put into a closed composter to mature and to limit odours.

Health concerns over the spread of animal diseases such as avian flu are also largely unfounded. In small numbers, hens are clean creatures, unlikely to generate disease. A few hens with a good home and a bit of yard space can be expected to live happy, healthy and productive lives.

As is the case with any domestic animal, the success of backyard hens largely depends on the quality and dedication of their owners. A bad pet is usually the result of a bad owner. But research shows the vast majority of hen owners are responsible: pro-hen Canadian cities report very low rates of nuisance complaints. If council allows hens, bylaw officers can expect six new nuisance complaints next year, not many when compared to the 447 it received last year regarding dogs.

Concerns about hen-related sanitation and noise can be addressed through municipal regulations, just as they are for pets, motorcycles, and neighbourhood parties.

After consultations with each of the dozen Canadian cities that allow backyard hens, we believe that the following regulations will smoothly reintegrate hens into backyards:

* One bird per 100 square metres of property;

* Coops must be 4.5 metres from any dwelling;

* Coops must not be built onto a shared fence;

* Hens must be confined to coop between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.;

* Roosters are prohibited;

* Home slaughter is prohibited;

* Feed must be stored securely;

* Manure must be composted in enclosed bin; chicken run must be kept clean.

* All other animal control bylaws will apply: noise, odour, animals-at-large;

* Sale of eggs or manure is prohibited.

The urban hen movement is a part of a growing effort in Canadian cities to solve some very serious problems with our food system. Solutions to these problems exist in the form of local farms, farmers' markets, community gardens and, in a small way, in backyard hens.

Council can help bring these concepts to fruition by embracing the idea of "local food" in its goal to transform Kingston into Canada's most sustainable city.

By allowing for small numbers of responsibly raised urban hens, council will follow the successful example of other progressive Canadian cities by strengthening our region's food security while ensuring a new source of healthy food for Kingston families.

Concerns about hen-related sanitation and noise can be addressed through municipal regulations, just as they are for dogs, cats and neighbourhood parties.

Together, we can send a message to city council that we want to create a truly sustainable, nutritious and delicious future for the people of Kingston.

Mike Payne is Co-co-ordinator of Urban Agriculture Kingston, a working group of OPIRG Kingston, which promotes sustainable food production in the Kingston area. Derek Zeisman is a UAK volunteer and graduate student at Queen's University. They can be reached at

UrbanAgKingston@gmail.com, and more information can be found at



What the bylaws say

Kingston City Bylaws were updated as recently as 2004 to prohibit poultry in residentially zoned areas, and on lots smaller than five acres in agricultural zones.

What we would like to see

Urban Agriculture Kingston wants to initiate discussion amongst citizens and Councillors to see what solutions best fit our city.  UAK suggests following the leadership of many other cities, amending bylaws such that:

  • A small number of laying hens (4-7) is allowed;
  • Roosters and home-slaughter are NOT allowed;
  • The same noise, smell, nuisance, and animal-cruelty rules that apply to dogs, cats and birds will apply to the hens


What do you think?

Check out the internet for research, come up with your own opinions and share them with your city Councillor and/or with us at urbanagkingston@gmail.com.

Here are some places to start looking:

Jacqueline Jolliffe's comprehensive study "Balking at Bocking; Urban Chicken Policy in Canada" can be read at:


There are many websites and facebook pages about keeping backyard hens and building chicken coops as well as about the struggles many municipalities have gone through to develop policy around backyard hens, here is a small sampling of them

www.backyardchickens.com    : a great starting place

www.urbanchicken.net             : more good links

www.facebook.com/urban.chickens    : connect with others in your community and beyond

www.tarazod.com/filmsmadchicks.html the blog is quite good

www.madcitychickens.com                   from Madison City, WI

Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart:

www.Ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html  This site has a great chart to help you select the breeds of chickens that suit your situation best.

After consultation with each of the dozen cities in Canada that allow backyard hens, and researching the bylaws of some of the hundreds of US cities that do, we believe that the following regulations would mitigate the factors identified above:
  1. 1 bird per 1000 ft2 of property (average kingston lot size would be about 3500 ft2);
  2. Coops and runs must be 15 feet from any dwelling;
  3. Coops must not be built onto a shared fence;
  4. Hens must be confined to coop between 9pm and 8am;
  5. Roosters are prohibited;
  6. Home slaughter is prohibited;
  7. Feed to be stored securely;
  8. Manure to be composted in enclosed bin; chicken run to be kept clean.
  9. All other animal control bylaws will obviously apply: noise, odour, animals-at-large.
The experiences of other cities shows a nuisance complaint rate of 6 complaints per 100,000 residents per year, and that is with less prescriptive rules than those above.

We are collecting signatures for a petition to present to city hall to have the bylaw changing allow backyard hens, to date we have collected 800 + signatures.

Media links for UAK, hen related and other:


http://uakingston.webs.com/Backyard Hen Campaign ARPC Submission.rtf



April 21, 2010


To the Arts, Recreation and Community Policy Committee:


Urban Agriculture Kingston (UAK) has initiated a discussion in our City on the merits of allowing egg-producing hens into backyards. We would like the opportunity to present our research and our plans to you, and also to hear your concerns and suggestions.


UAK launched the campaign on June 8th, 2009, and has held five public events to raise awareness about the issue. Our petition, which calls for City Council to amend the bylaw to allow for backyard hens, has been signed by over 1000 residents.


Allowing urban hens would support Kingston’s goal to become Canada’s most sustainable city by providing an affordable, accessible, healthy food source in one’s own backyard, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste, not to mention the population of battery-hens. Dozens of North American municipalities, including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Niagara Falls, Seattle, and New York City allow backyard hens. In all cases, the rule-changes have resulted in very few, and sometimes zero, bylaw complaints. The KFLA Board of health produced a report in June 2009, and assessed backyard hens to pose no health concerns providing good management practices.


UAK is advocating for a set of bylaws and guidelines that will ensure harmony among neighbours, and a happy and productive life for backyard hens. We are advocating measures that incorporate the “five freedoms,” as developed by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, an advisory body to the UK government.



Thank you for your consideration,


Mike Payne

Urban Agriculture Kingston





The Kingston Backyard Hen Campaign


Urban Agriculture Kingston (UAK) is a not-for-profit working group of OPIRG Kingston that promotes sustainable food production for all people in the Greater Kingston area, by advocating policy changes in governments and institutions that will support increased food sovereignty across the region.


As part of its mission to enhance food security and healthful food consumption among local residents, UAK has initiated the Kingston Backyard Hens campaign, and is supported by the Community Urban Sustainability Project, OPIRG Kingston, and the Living Cities Company.  Kingston Backyard Hens comprises a diverse group of area residents dedicated to awareness, advocacy, and education concerning urban chickens within the City of Kingston.  Supporters believe that responsible urban hen ownership is a desirable element of sustainable urban agriculture and can provide Kingston residents with greater control over their food sources.


After four months of outreach and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including City Council, the Public Health Unit, the Community Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, the Kingston Humane Society, neighbourhood associations, local veterinarians, local farmers, the general public, and 16 municipalities that currently allow backyard hens, we seek the following bylaw changes:


Desired Bylaw Changes

1.      Maximum of 8 hens per property;

2.      Roosters prohibited;

3.      Home slaughter prohibited;

4.      Feed must be stored securely;

5.      Manure must be composted in enclosed bin

6.      Chicken run must be kept clean.

7.      All other animal control bylaws will apply such as noise, odour, animal cruelty, animals-at-large

8.      Sale of eggs or manure is prohibited.

9.      Mandatory registration online or by phone



Guidelines will be a public record of best management practices. These will be made available to registrants through the City website if they register online, or will be mailed to the registrants if they register by phone.

Housing requirements

– Minimum 0.37 m2 (4 ft2 ) coop space and 0.92 m2 (10 ft2 ) enclosed run space per hen

− Entire structure must be roofed

− >15 cm perch for each hen and one nest box

− Hens must remain enclosed when not under direct supervision


Basic care

Hens must be provided food, water, shelter, adequate light and ventilation, veterinary care, and opportunities to scratch, dust-bathe, and roost.


Pest control

− Enclosures must be:

−kept in good repair and sanitary condition

− constructed to prevent access by other animals

− Food and water must be kept in coop at night

− Manure /waste must be removed in timely manner


Registry basics

− Register on-line or by phone

− No registration fee

− Registrants must reside on lot with hen enclosure


Information provided on registry website

− By-law requirements

− Resource page with links to Best Management Practices (BMPs), humane education,   and biosecurity information

− List of upcoming hen workshops


Benefits of Backyard Hens


Affordable Food:

The cost eggs for backyard hens are between $1-$3/dozen depending on the season and the amount of kitchen scraps supplementing purchased feed. Cost also depends on if the feed is organic, and upon the size and breed hen.  A final variable is what type of bedding is used and how it is procured (straw, wood shavings, etc). (info sourced from forums on backyardchickens.com, accessed April 9th, 2010)

According to a 2005 study of grade 5 students in Nova Scotia, 73.7% of the children did not meet the minimum recommendations of Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating for meat and alternatives (eggs) (redorbit.com/news/health/152025/dietary_intake_and_risk_factors_for_poor_diet_quality_among/ accessed April 9, 2010).

Accessible Food:

True free range eggs are only available at the farm gate of a farmer whose operation you can see. If people want to buy farm fresh free range eggs, they need a car, and will have to pay at least $4/dozen.  Those who keep hens in backyards can easily be car-free and receive delivery of bags of feed. Carless people can buy free range eggs at upmarket stores for $4-$6/dozen, but are they really free range? According to the Chicken Farmers of Canada, “The term has not been legally defined in either Canada or the U.S” (www.chicken.ca/DefaultSite/index.aspx?ArticleID=3434&lang=en-CA April 9th, 2010).

Reduced Solid Waste:

Those who wish to can enhance their food-waste-food cycle at home. Composted hen manure provides an excellent source of garden fertilizer: higher  in N-P-K, phosphorus, and calcium than any other animal (Rodale Guide to Composting).

There is no hard data on how much of an impact allowing backyard hens would have on Kingston’s solid waste volume: we expect a small but measurable (on a household level) reduction in waste. Mouscron, a small city in Belgium has twice distributed laying hens to willing residents, as part of a multi-faceted campaign to reduce waste (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8539877.stm, accessed April 9th 2010).

A Community-Building Food Source:

There are a variety of ways in which hens build community. In almost all cities that allow hens, there are henning societies that provide knowledge-sharing venues on-line and in groups. They often form buying clubs to secure better pricing and delivery arrangements. Like dog-owners, henners like to get together and talk shop.


Children will see where their food comes from and have the chance to eat healthy, ethical food.

A Sustainable pet:

Many owners report taking delight in the behavior and character of their hens. Most continue to care for them when they stop laying after around five years (they might still live another two years). Eight hens would weigh about half of a labrador retriever, the most popular pet in North America. Eight hens would produce about 240g/day of feces, all of which can be used to make excellent fertilizer (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=3F5C48821BFEF99A572D92B6FD803481.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=606984 accessed April 9th, 2010). A typical dog produces about 340g/day of feces that must be landfilled (ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/AK/.../dogwastecomposting2.pdf accessed April 9th, 2010).

Humane Food:

Backyard hens allow people to detach from the industrial-egg machine. It is not feasible for most to go to a farm in the countryside each week, and the claims that free-range supermarket eggs come from hens with good lives are overstated. They are not in cages, but still live 20,000 to a barn, and though there is an open door in their barn, they never go outside. 

An April 7, 2010 video from the Humane Society of the US which depicts the typical treatment of conventionally raised egg laying hens : youtube.com/watch?v=59f3xeUgChc

Canada has 25 million hens are kept in battery cages: http://www.humanefood.ca/battery.html

Food of High Quality:

There can be no substitute for a fresh egg that comes from a healthy hen eating a variety of green leafy matter. The yolks are bright yellow/orange and are much better for cooking and baking.

Healthy Food:

Eggs are a good source of dietary protein (Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating).  There is a small but building body of evidence showing that pastured free-range hens that eat a variety of leafy greens (ie grass and carrot tops) are more healthy than barn-raised free-range eggs organic or otherwise. Aside from being free of pesticides and antibiotics, pastured poulty eggs have:

1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

(motherearthnews.com/Relish/Pastured-Eggs-Vitamin-D-Content.aspxa accessed April 9, 2010).

Animal Rescue

Unlike other pets, which can be bought on impulse because they look cute and are kept indoors, hens require significant input of time and money before they can be brought home. Coops cost upwards of $500 and must be delivered, and home construction is more time-consuming and can not likely be done for less than $200. Furthermore, hens are usually ordered, also requiring forethought.


We are taking steps to ensure that anyone who hens will be prepared and informed of best management practices. Based on this and the experiences of other communities, there seems no reason to anticipate a problem of abandoned hens.


Already there are henners in Kingston raising hens rescued from slaughter at local egg farms. We expect that there would be willing adopters for any hens that are abandoned.


Local veterinarians have expressed a capability to offer full service to hens: treatment, euthanizing, disposal.

Background: Backyard Hens in the North American Context

In the decades following World War II, suburbanites seeded their lots with grass, installed lawn sprinklers, applied chemicals to their yards liberally, and passed bylaws prohibiting livestock both great and small – including chickens – in urban and suburban backyards.


In recent years, many of us have begun  to realize that maintaining a close connection to our food is a positive, rather than a negative choice, and is an important part of living a more agriculturally and ecologically sustainable lifestyle.  Farmers markets (including the weekly market in downtown Kingston) have since experienced a massive revival, people are gardening more, and communities around the nation are changing decades-old laws forbidding the keeping of chickens.


Many major cities across North America, including Vancouver, Victoria, New York, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles have already allowed the small-scale raising of chickens in a wide range of urban settings. Now it is Kingston’s turn to join this positive and growing trend. We can follow the example of comparable Canadian examples such as Niagara Falls, Brampton, Nelson, Victoria, Esquimault, and Saanich.

Myths debunked

Where people have negative opinions on this issue, it is often due to misconceptions: that hens inherently smell, are noisy, diseased, pest-attracting nuisances. UAK has contacted staff from 15 municipalities in Canada and the USA, and all report low bylaw enforcement complaint rates: the average was 5 complaints per year per 100,000 residents. By comparison, there were 447 dog related complaints in Kingston last year. Their opinion was that, like any pet, hens require an investment of time, energy, care, and money.