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Chickens’ fate up in the air as ban on backyard flocks upheld

Tanya Buskell keeps hens in her residential area and wants council to reconsider a recently upheld ban
Tanya and John Buskell

Tanya Buskell is worried about the fate of the eight hens she and her husband John keep in their backyard following council’s decision to continue its ban on backyard flocks in Abbotsford’s urban areas on Monday.

“I was told we would be able to defend our stance… I’m completely blindsided by that fact that it happened (Monday).”

Tanya got the chickens about 15 months ago as a sort of therapy after losing her job. In January, the Buskells were given a notice from bylaw enforcement that they couldn’t keep the hens, as the city’s pound bylaw prohibits keeping farm animals in urban areas.

But after contacting the city, Tanya was told that she would not have to get rid of the chickens until council had an opportunity to review the issue. Tanya said she was told by Mayor Bruce Banman in person, as well as in an email, that she would be notified when the issue came to council.

But when the decision was made Monday, Tanya and John had been given no warning.

Leslie Stettler, an Abbotsford resident, appeared as a delegation to council Monday evening, asking them to consider a pilot project allowing small flocks of hens in backyards.

Council then considered a report from city staff recommending council continue the ban, stating that despite requests to keep flocks, the city receives complaints about neighbours with chickens, mostly due to rodent attraction, noise and unsightliness. The report also states that to a lesser extent, concerns about avian flu have been raised.

Council voted against the proposal, citing concerns for neighbours, and the potential impact on the agricultural sector.

Coun. Patricia Ross said she remembers the 2004 avian flu outbreak in the Fraser Valley when about 17 million birds had to be destroyed. She said that as Abbotsford is the centre of the poultry industry, “it’s just too big a risk.”

Some B.C. communities allow backyard flocks, including Surrey, Delta, New Westminster, Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo, with a variety of different rules and stipulations for numbers or limiting ownership to hens.

Chilliwack, Langley, and Mission do not allow chickens.

Mayor Bruce Banman acknowledged that while some communities allow chickens, Abbotsford’s closest neighbours continue to ban them. He said that communities like Chilliwack and Mission likely have the same concerns that council has, that it will impact agriculture and the “many, many jobs” that it provides.

John Buskell disagrees with council’s perspective, saying there “is no science supporting that backyard chickens impact the spread of avian flu,” adding that the disease was spread through the industry, not in backyards.

The Buskells had a chicken die suddenly and were concerned about the spread of disease. They immediately brought it the Abbotsford Agricultural Centre, where staff determined it had died from an egg that ruptured internally. Tanya said this shows that in Abbotsford, which has the centre that will perform autopsies on chickens for only $10, is equipped to handle responsible chicken ownership.

Only Coun. Bill MacGregor voted to allow for a pilot project, saying a project with proper rules and regulations could be effective.

Tanya said she think chicken ownership should be regulated, and permits should be issued and a course on proper care should be required. She took a free course at the University of the Fraser Valley on the proper care of backyard chickens, learning anatomy, signs of disease or ill health, and proper care.

The Buskells said they obviously did not research the bylaw properly, but as Abbotsford is “the City in the Country,” allowing chickens should be considered.

“There has to be dialogue and debate about it… I think they would be surprised at how many people have chickens in this town,” said Tanya.

John said the decision, which they were told they would be informed of, should be declared void due to lack of consultation.

Tanya said she is disappointed with the way council made their decision and the information it was based on.

“I trusted them to look at both sides equally, and they didn’t.”

Katherine Jeffcoatt, manager of communications for the city, said due to changeover in the city’s bylaw department, the Buskells failed to be notified of council’s upcoming decision.

She said the Buskells will be able to register to make a delegation before council on the issue at an upcoming meeting, allowing council a chance to reconsider their decision, and keep their chickens in the interim.