Convincing Council to Support Urban Chickens

Show your councillor that you support backyard chickens before the next council meeting on January 25.

By Jeremy Compton
Published January 22, 2012

Urban chickens. Backyard chickens. Whichever term you like the most, both mean the same: a chicken (or chickens) kept at a residential property within the city limits.

Citizens of Hamilton are actively petitioning the recent ruling on urban chickens that occurred down at City Hall.

The original plan in Hamilton was that staff would conduct research and study regarding keeping urban chickens, that councillors would review it so that an educated decision could be made.

On January 12, this changed. The Planning Committee decided they would not wait for a staff report and would look into the issue no further. This came to a surprise to many councillors and citizens alike.

This is a democratic farce, shutting it down without giving it a fair chance to even be heard.

Reasons to Keep Chickens

To some people, backyard chickens are a food source. To others, it's the idea of being self-sufficient and not being dependent on anyone else. They can be a learning tool for children, who have no real understanding of where our food comes from (like my daughter, who still thinks eggs come from the "fridge" and the "store").

Whatever people's reasons are, there are some very good ones to want to keep backyard chickens.

I personally like the idea of raising my own food and being self-sufficient. Having chickens is as important as my garden in my back yard. I have planted vegetables for my family for many years, growing lots of things, and shared them with family and neighbours.

I would love to be able to do the same with eggs I can get from backyard chickens, that would care for with my family.

Response to Objections

Opponents to the idea keep throwing the same arguments into the ring. The majors I keep hearing are:

  1. Chickens Smell
  2. Chickens carry bacteria and disease, which can be harmful to humans. (salmonella, avian flu and others)
  3. Chickens attract predators, like: foxes, raccoon, coyote, mice, rats, etc

Yes, there is some validity to these arguments, but I really don't think such things should prevent the city from allowing chickens in our borders, as most of these are not as big an issue. I don't want to spend too much time on these issues, as they will be addressed over and over again; however I will spend a moment or two.

1. Do chickens smell? Yes, but mostly because of coops not being cleaned regularly. If you don't clean out your feline's litter box, you get the same effect. It can attract flies and carry a pungent odour. This is definitely not a good thing, but still, owning a cat is not banned.

2. Do chickens carry bacteria and disease? Yes, they can. We have been told by the city's Public Health department that the risk of these types of things is no different than with a cat or a dog. Should we ban cats and dogs? I should hope not.

3. Can chickens attract vermin? Most issues with rodents are due to feed being improperly stored. Feed comes in a sack, which can be chewed. By storing feed in metal containers (not wood or plastic), most rodent issues cease. This also cuts down on disease, as chickens are not consuming feed contaminated with rodent feces.

Finally, proper enclosures for hens also ensures that other predators can't cause an issue. This is much like dealing with storing a bag of garbage outside at night. If you don't do it correctly, raccoons soon set in.

Benefits Outweigh Negatives

The positives of owning chickens far outweigh the negatives. Producing my own food, being able to share with my neighbours and bring the community together, and just the plain old fact that backyard chickens provide better tasting, healthier eggs, are some of many reasons to support urban chickens.

There are studies that show chickens who are raise in pasture (much like a backyard chicken) may contain 4 to 6 times more Vitamin D, less cholesterol, less saturated fat, and double the omega-3 fatty acids, along with many other things. (See for more details.)

However, I also believe that we should place appropriate restrictions chickens in our city. Some of the things I would be sure to include would be:

  1. No roosters.
  2. Limit of number of hens at one property (to be determined).
  3. Proper ratio of coop size to number of hens.
  4. Random checks by animal control be permitted.
  5. Proper rules on dealing with "spent fowl".
  6. License purchased from city to keep chickens, to aide city in any costs incurred.

With proper rules and regulations, it could be a wonderful thing to keep hens in the city. I don't believe there will be many issues that would involve any required intervention by Animal Control. Even if such issues arise, they would be few and far between.

I believe citizens in our city can weigh the positives and negatives and make a wise decision for themselves. Most people would more than likely not want to keep a chicken, as there is a lot of work involved. They would rather by eggs at the grocery store. For those of us willing, we should be allowed.

Hamilton is a great city, with a big focus on its people. I really think that if we allow the keeping of hens in our city, that many lives will be truly enriched.

More Information

On January 25 at 5:00 PM, council will be meeting at City Hall, and a group of supporters of urban chickens will be present. I really encourage anyone who wants to help make an impact, to please come and show your support.

As well, supporters can help in a huge way by sending a letter or email to their city councillor, and copying the city clerk, so the letter may become part of the official record. This may seem like a small and easy thing to do, but it goes a long way.

You can find the email address for your councillor here. Make sure to copy the city clerk, Mary Gallagher:

Sign the petition online at (URL shortened for ease of access):

Join the Facebook group:

We also have buttons available to wear to show support.

Jeremy Compton is a father and husband, and has been a Hamilton resident for five years. He enjoys gardening, motorcycling and working with his hands and is interested in urban farming and self sustainability. He is a manager in the warehousing/distribution industry.


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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 08:28:09

This could easily be passed along with the stipulation that licensed urban chicken farmers/stewards must have a large lot (in some cases at least an acre of land) set aside for the purpose, and standard setbacks from neighbouring houses).

That's preferable to cases like St. Catharines, where it's apparently legal to keep chickens but you have to keep your livestock indoors... or the notional liberty of "free range", which might be just an industrial farm with an open door (and urban farmers are certainly not de facto more ethical or humane than their rural counterparts).

Any success will almost certainly come arm-in-arm with licensing and inspection regimes.... part of the "what's good for the goose" reality of farming, urban or rural.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 09:37:28

Not so sure about a law requiring you to have a large lot. Seems unessecarily restrictive. I don't think many people (within the city limits, and especially people who don't live on the mountain) would have prperties that large. Certain distance from property lines, and certain square footage per hen would be sufficient for the animals' welfare, as well as "neighbourly distance".

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:40:46 in reply to Comment 73245

Upon further reading it does seem that there's a lot of latitude on this issue, and a lot of different permutations. (The large lot provision is apparently in place in Guelph and Surrey, but the farming community might have influenced the inflection of that... remembering the chicken quota story I linked to previously.)

Brampton, for example, apparently limits households to two domestic/game fowl (members of farm organizations are exempt from this cap), with offspring allowed until three months of age; coops are to be a minimum of 25 feet from any dwelling and six feet from property lines. (Someone had asked about squab/pigeons in another thread and they're also covered here in detail.)

There are any number of cases where you'd imagine that sanity would have prevailed, but when you look at the resulting tangle of red tape, it's clear that common sense isn't the coin of the realm here. It will be interesting to see how this drama unfolds.

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:04:57 in reply to Comment 73248

Vancouver apparently bans urban roosters, has a max of four chickens per yard (back yard only), with coops and runs must be completely enclosed and roofed and be at least one metre from property line and at least three metres from the windows or doors of any dwelling. Hens must be registered (free) with the city and sale of resulting eggs is not permitted.

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By Derwin (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 13:32:24 in reply to Comment 73257

In the absence of urban roosters, I wonder if there's some west coast country rooster stud program going?

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:01:20 in reply to Comment 73248

Guelph's chicken policy seems to require a 50' distance from fowlhouse to adjacent dwellings.

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:22:11 in reply to Comment 73248

Just an FYI; the story you linked to was flawed, in that the current quota system would have no impact on urban chickens. The quota system applies only to those with min. 100 chickens (300 for meat). Clearly not an issue within the city limits. The only way it might interfere would be if the chickens were being raised for re-sale; that is not allowed under the current exemptions, unless sold on-site. But I don't believe the intention of the urban chicken reformers is to raise chickens for resale beyond their property line. For a better article outlining the reasons for/against the quota system, see here:

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:49:42 in reply to Comment 73251

Awesome! So then it's just down to the irresistable pull of logic and reason. Sounds like a lock.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:08:52 in reply to Comment 73245

Wouldn't requiring acre-plus lots effectively mean continuing a ban on urban chickens? I've seen urban hen-houses on far smaller lots and it never seemed a problem.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:16:32

I say no to acreage restrictions or distance from the neighbours home and they should be able to roam around the yard and be free-range. I live in the east end with a long narrow backyard. Most of it is a two-car garage that could easily be transformed to have a chicken coup with a door and fenced in area for them to roam but it would be right up against my neighbours fence.

It would be sometime before I could afford to do something like this but having the option there would be a great thing. I will be contacting my councillor and cc'ing the clerk. Thanks for being a part of the fight, Jeremy. If nothing else, perhaps we should ask those with coups to come forward and monitor them for awhile. See how they work things and use them as a basis to run this hopefully new venture off of. We really need to be careful with limitations though. We shouldn't look at this as we'll okay it but we are going to make it as strict as hell. "You're lucky we are approving this", kind of thing.

Best of luck to those who have much more of a vested interest in this cause. I hope we can all come away at the end of this with the realization that we live in forward-thinking community that is making some seemingly small, but extraordinarily important changes in becoming a leader in the world community.

Comment edited by lawrence on 2012-01-23 10:38:30

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:02:29

I don't understand putting all of these restrictions on a potential hen bylaw, while allowing dogs to run free to the extents of yards with no setbacks and allowing cats to run free with no limits at all. I got home the other day and my back door reeked of cat urine, but I don't own a cat. If we are going to freak out about the smells and noises of animals we should ban all pets and put diapers on the police horses. But of course that's ludicrous - for the exact same reasons this whole hen ban is absurd. Why should we dictate restrictions for the many in order to protect us from the mistakes of the few? Let's simply treat hens as any other pet - when the occasional nuisance occurs, we'd deal with it on a case by case basis just as we do now for noisy dogs or a neighbour who lets their smelly garbage pile up.

Let them have hens!

Have your hen (and eat it too)!

hens, hens everywhere so let's all have an egg!

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:58:36 in reply to Comment 73249

The city has twice tried to fit licensing to cat ownership unsuccessfully, but whether that's a win or not depends on your view of cats. Certainly seems like a double standard (and promotes hands-free animal ownership) but then again I'm inclined to view living with animals of any kind as inherently kind of weird. And as I'll keep saying, logic is not always compatable with municipal policymaking.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 02:19:48 in reply to Comment 73255

That seems to have been the prevailing view in Hamilton until recently & if, & when the current animal bylaws change.

There certainly are a Whole Lot of us Weirdos out there.

It might surprise you to know that I feel the same about the 'Petless' as you do about us. Weird, sad, & kind'a vacant.

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:46:08 in reply to Comment 73249

Two words: farm lobby

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 02:21:41 in reply to Comment 73253

Wouldn't that be a Hobby Farm Lobby?

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:29:35 in reply to Comment 73249

Well put seancb.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:05:58 in reply to Comment 73249

don't get me started on cats. There's one on our street that likes to make the rounds spraying all of our properties. Just a brutal stench. I wish this thing had a chicken coop.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-01-23 11:06:11

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2012 at 17:19:52 in reply to Comment 73250

Cats can spray wherever they like around my property. Not really a fraction of the health hazard presented by using my vegetable garden mulch as a litter-box.

The completely arbitrary distinctions placed between "pets" and other animals have always confused me.

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 13:10:47

You all have to be kidding about this issue! Raising chickens in your back yard to feed yourself! You seriously need to consider moving to the country. Many neighbours are concerned about cats & dogs,yet you want the City to consider adding a new one,chickens! You guys are really part of the 1%,want approval of a by-law that serves very few but who want chickens in their back yard,much to the demise of neighbours on each side of you plus neighbours facing your back yard! Did I already mention,move to the country!

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By Eggscellent! (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 13:36:13

Chickens can live to be 30-35 years old, although the average lifespan of a healthy free-range chicken is about 15 years.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2012 at 16:40:56 in reply to Comment 73261

Reading articles like this make me want to have a coop even more. It sounds like a fair bit of work but a rewarding experience.

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By NoSugarAdded (registered) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 15:12:39

I agree with Bobby1! No chickens in the city and the vast majority of people will think this way. You want to farm...move to the country!

As to how long a chicken can live they can live around 8 -12 years, but the normal expectancy is about 7 years. Layers burn out early at 2-3 and then it is the soup pot for them.

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted January 24, 2012 at 01:43:30

I live next door to an idiot that has chickens and I can tell you right now that there is no way that the city is going to change it's mind.

I was one of the many who complained to my councilor about the noise and stink from his makeshift coop. I work late at night and don't appreciate being woken up at 7 in the morning to the sounds of clucking chickens. I like to have my windows open in the summer and this morons coop is right up against the fence abutting my house. I welcome the city's prohibition and intend to call bylaw enforcement as soon as he restocks this spring.

If you want chickens move to a farm.

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By jacob (registered) | Posted January 24, 2012 at 17:53:06 in reply to Comment 73279

I think I might be on bigguy's side on this one. Urban chickens are a nice idea but the practical aspects are less nice. The comparison to dogs and cats is a bit misguided, since that's just a comparison to an equal nuisance. Just because we've gotten used to having one nuisance doesn't mean it makes sense to add others. Plus look at the awful problems with dogs - especially for the animals. Proponents of this need to consider if you want to allow the worst people in society to have chickens, and the consequences of that, because that's what happens with dogs and cats and that makes me sick to watch.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 01:50:43 in reply to Comment 73291

Again with the animals! (esp. dogs as nuisance)?

Wow!! I've never been to a single place in N. America that looks at animals/pets in the disparaging way that Hamilton does.

What exactly turns animals (esp. dogs) into such a 'nuisance' once they hit the borders of the GHA?

Apparently,an animal that has been a joy to own outside of Hamilton turns into a raging werewolf once it hits the GHA border..??
(Could it be the lack of education of both owners & City Council? Could it be the lack of obedience schools within the City of Hamilton, or the general lack of places & opportunities to Socialize puppies with people of all ages & other dogs that has caused most of these 'problems'? Could it be a culture of Fear among too many people?)

Jacob,I should tell you about Mrs. McKeever, who ran a rehab center for raptors (owls, hawks, eagles etc.) in Vineland Ont. They were trying out broody (motherly) owls in an attempt to find a female owl that could raise abandoned baby raptors successfully. To try out the bird's mothering skills, they had her sit on a clutch of eggs, & raise a group of baby domestic chicks. She did very well, & the chicks prospered into fine adult chickens. However, they had been raised on mice. Live mice, when they got old enough to dispatch them.

They were carnivorous chickens.

Beware the Carnivorous Chickens! Fear the chickens! Cuz once a mild manned chicken hits the City of Hamilton it will immediately turn into a Velociraptor!

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By animal farm (anonymous) | Posted January 24, 2012 at 11:57:27 in reply to Comment 73279

All are equal but some are more equal than others.

All of your clucking over a little bit of clucking? My neighbour's wailing baby filters through my summer window screens as well, so shall we ban those too?

If you want absolute silence, move to the woods.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 02:08:22 in reply to Comment 73280

The woods are pretty noisy too. All those birds chirping, frogs peeping & croaking. Coyotes yowling, raccoons fighting,& bobcats growling. That kind of racket just could not be tolerated! :D I think a sound proof compound with 10 meter high walls, & daily fumigation to kill those pesky crickets & cicadas would do nicely for those who want absolute, & total silence.

"Silence like a cancer grows" - Paul Simon.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 24, 2012 at 14:22:43

A good decision by council. You want chickens? Move to the country and open a farm.

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By mocking the capitalists of this country (anonymous) | Posted January 24, 2012 at 15:52:09

Oh yes, the remark by the capitalist, shows how rather ignorant they are. If people are to be self sustaining, not dependant on say the food bank system , which costs tax payers, why not allow for people to have access to fresh eggs or chicken when the hen grows old.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 24, 2012 at 16:10:11 in reply to Comment 73288

What does the food bank have to do with this??? Are you saying that if people could just own chickens there would be no need for a food bank?

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By jacob (registered) | Posted January 24, 2012 at 17:41:47

hey capitalist how do ya reconcile laissez faire on economics with pro social regulation?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted January 24, 2012 at 19:53:52

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 01:06:14

We lived 2 doors up from a neighbour with chickens in Toronto. 'Had no problems with the chickens, but roosters are very noisy.
Roosters do not crow at dawn. Roosters crow any damn time they want, & frequently that would be all night.

Cities may also have some concerns about 'cock fighting' both from a humane, & illegal gambling viewpoint as well as the noise concerns. Fighting roosters is a common sport, & part of many cultures in S.E. Asia & S. America.

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By Quisp (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 03:01:27

C'mon, people. You're missing the obvious. Council has approved snakes and spiders, and both of those beasties makes eggs. Problem solved!

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2012 at 13:09:17

John couldn't post this comment due to 'internal server error' warnings he received when he tried but with his permission, I am adding this comment to this thread on his behalf.

Regarding some comments above about land restrictions, a one acre minimum is very restrictive indeed. I live on the east mountain, my property size is 60' x 100' and that's plenty big enough to keep hens in a coop, without being too noisy or too close to my neighbours (who incidentally would probably want to get their own chickens). Even with a small coop, say 2-3 hens, I would still have a ton of open space in my backyard. My 60' x 100' lot size is 0.137 acre, or 1/13 of an acre. Leghorn, how many properties do you know of in urban Hamilton that have "at least one acre of land"?

Solutions exist and a good handful of Canadian cities that have already paved the way with respect to allowing urban/backyard chickens have chosen to focus on solutions, not the problems. And if you read the policy reports and guidelines of those municipalities you will learn that the problems and/or complaints have all been minor and for the most part easily remedied. What will we choose to focus on here in the Hammer?

This is the Green Belt. Hamilton could be the model city for urban sustainability if it wants to be. Other forward-thinking cities have done this ahead of us and so we already have a template and a wealth of other resources to make this work. Hamilton City Council, so many of your constituents want this, so what are we waiting for?

When this passes, we (the people who want this) should welcome inspections by the City, because how else would the City know what situations and what types of coops work best so as to make appropriate recommendations to the coop owners who fail said inspections? Furthermore, the guidelines could be laid out upfront to give people the opportunity to setup a proper urban chicken environment right from the start. Vancouver's guidelines were very well detailed and include schematics for coops/runs as well as recommendations for setbacks (distances from property boundaries/buildings) for various types of lots. I've posted this and other documents on the Urban Chickens Hamilton facebook page. If you read it you will see that Vancouver really did its research (it's 32 pages long) in producing these guidelines. Hopefully Hamilton City Council can do the same.

The keeping of backyard urban chickens can be done right and not be smelly, noisy or otherwise be a nuisance to those who unwittingly oppose urban chickens. It's time to stop catering to the lowest common denominator. The world is changing and people are tired of so much of their food coming from the states and abroad needlessly, or in the case of eggs, locally but from unhealthy caged hens. With regards to the movement for green/local/sustainable living, I am optimistic that this could could be one of Hamilton's finest moments in recent history.

~ John Margaritis

Comment edited by lawrence on 2012-01-25 13:57:28

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By Jeff_Stock (registered) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 16:05:18

I submit an egg test be conducted at city hall this afternoon. In one pan, a backyard farmed egg. In the other pan, an industrial factory farmed egg.

The colour, consistency and taste will undoubtedly speak for themselves.

Comment edited by Jeff_Stock on 2012-01-25 16:07:20

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 22:33:52

Some good news for a change.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 26, 2012 at 15:03:04

Just thought I'd post the Hamilton City addy & page about buying your license for your Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig. (OH BOY!! Eggs & Bacon!)

  1. Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig Licences Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pigs are required to have a City of Hamilton Licence in accordance with By-law 84-191. Prior to the identification tag being issued the owner must provide proof of the following to the City of Hamilton Animal Services that the Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig:

    has been innoculated against rabies, erysipelas, and leptospirosis is not a cross of this breed has been detusked

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By DonaldJLester (registered) | Posted January 26, 2012 at 17:25:35

I still want to raise chickens. How can I reduce the risks to yourself and my family?

  1. Keep baby chicks and adult chickens away from persons with weaker immune systems, including the elderly, pregnant women, diabetics, patients receiving chemotherapy, and people who are infected with HIV.

  2. Do not keep chickens if a household has children less than five years of age.

  3. Make sure that any interaction between chicks or chickens and small children is supervised and that children wash their hands afterwards. Children less than five years of age tend to put their hands and other potentially contaminated objects into their mouths.

  4. Supervise hand washing for small children to make sure that it is adequate. See our CDC website for proper hand washing guidelines:

  5. Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching chickens or anything in their environment. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Bacteria on your hands can be easily transferred to objects and other people in your home.

  6. Wash contaminated items with hot soapy water or with a mild bleach solution.

  7. Do not eat or drink around your chickens.

  8. Keep chickens away from food preparation areas.

  9. Do not wash items from chicken coops like water and food dishes in the kitchen sink.

  10. Do not allow chickens to roam freely around the house.

  11. Frequently clean the area where chickens are kept.

  12. Visit your physician if you experience abdominal pain, fever, and/or diarrhea.

For further information:

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2012 at 15:23:23

Chicken feed!!/HamiltonChicken

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2012 at 16:16:32

For the few I've heard worried that we'll decide to butcher our own backyard hens as in yesteryear; I recall ten years ago the local (Niagara area)'s butcher's cost for turning a spent laying hen into a freezer-ready soup/stewing bird was.... $3.00 per hen. Not bad.

I don't think we'll have many people who decide hatchets and a stump are the preferred option.

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