TORONTO -- Some Toronto residents with a hankering for their own fresh eggs could soon be in luck if city council approves a pilot project that would lift a ban on backyard hens.
Four Toronto wards would be part of the project and comes as part of a motion to review the city's list of prohibited animals, which currently includes chickens.
A survey included in a city staff report filed in May suggested that lifting the ban on chickens could be a popular move.
"There's a lot of benefits, for sure," said Coun. Justin Di Ciano, whose west-end ward will be part of the pilot project. Home-raised chickens are a healthier alternative to store-bought eggs, he said, and they keep away pests. He also characterized them as a "cruelty-free" alternative to factory-farmed eggs.
Toronto resident Andrew Patel -- who has raised hens in his backyard since 2011 despite the ban -- said he's pleased at news. "I think a pilot project is probably the best way to pass a safe and effective bylaw," Patel said, adding that such a bylaw wouldn't be difficult to implement.
"We're talking about a couple of people raising a few hens, for non-commercial purposes on private property," he said. Meanwhile, several municipalities in Ontario, including Kingston, Brampton, Niagara Falls and Caledon, all allow residents to keep chickens in backyard coops.
In Brampton, for example, current bylaws surrounding chickens state that coops must be no less than eight metres from any dwelling, store or adjacent property, and at least two metres from the side boundary of the property where it's kept. Bramptonians also can't keep chickens inside their home, and must keep any chicken waste in airtight containers "in a manner that will not create a public nuisance or health hazard."
But chickens in Toronto could attract -- and be at the mercy of -- other critters known to haunt Toronto, a local expert said. Dan Frankian, a bird and animal control specialist, said that leaving chickens to roam free in a backyard during the day could attract the attention of scavengers.
"Once the chickens are running around, the food is, too," Frankian said, which could attract raccoons and coyotes. Raccoons in particular love eggs, he said, and can break into locked boxes or cages with ease. "Standard chicken wire is not strong enough to hold those guys," Frankian said. But Patel said he has never had a problem with urban wildlife. "Raccoons aren't brain surgeons -- they can't pick a lock or open a hackproof door," he said. "So I don't think it's an issue that can't be navigated."
He said his six hens are stored in a coop protected by hardwire, which has smaller holes than a chicken-wire coop.
A survey from a recent city staff report says chickens are among the most complained-about animals on Toronto's prohibited list, alongside sheep, snakes and birds. Objections range from noise to smell.
But Patel said when hens are cared for properly and their bedding is changed, there is not smell. And he added that roosters, not hens, crow. The pilot project was originally supposed to have been proposed at City Hall on Friday, but was deferred after news came of deputy mayor Pam McConnell's death.
It will be re-introduced at council's next meeting in October.
Pillows that track your snoozing patterns? A bed that adjusts based on how much you twist and turn? Companies are adding more technology into their products, hoping to lure customers craving a better night's sleep.
Some specialized businesses are making gadgets that promise to measure and improve the quality of slumber, while mass-market retailers like Best Buy are offering simpler ideas like the effect different lighting can have on falling sleep. But with ever-growing options, people may find items that are getting more sophisticated — but may still not be accurate.
The interest in sleep has intensified. The number of sleep centres accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine nearly tripled from 2000 to 2015, the group says. People are more likely to brag about how much they spent for a mattress than on their clothes, says Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR North America.
"Sleep is the new status symbol," she says.
It's a big business. One of the more expensive products is Sleep Number's 360 Smart Bed, which runs from $3,449 to $4,999. It makes adjustments based on how restless people are while they're sleeping. The Zeeq pillow, which sells for $299 and is from bedding brand REM-Fit, monitors snoring and can gently vibrate to nudge someone into a different sleep position.
"I'm willing to spend more on sleep technology because it will hopefully help me fall asleep quicker, stay asleep longer and be more rested when I wake up," says Frank Ribitch, a self-described gadget junkie from Martinez, California, who tracks his sleep with apps connected to a Sleep Number bed and the Zeeq pillow.
Insufficient sleep is a public health concern, federal officials say, with more than one-third of American adults not getting enough on a regular basis. That can contribute to problems like obesity and diabetes. And a study published by the Rand Corp. put the financial loss to U.S. companies at up to $411 billion a year.
Finding solutions could be a lucrative enterprise. Earlier this year Apple Inc. bought Finland-based Beddit, which was making an app and sleep monitoring device that's placed under the sheet on top of the mattress. The $150 sensor begins tracking when a person lies down, and analyzes data such as the portion of time someone is in bed asleep before waking up. It also monitors heart rate, temperature, movement — and even snoring.
"Previously, it was about the sleeping pill and people didn't want to talk about sleep apnea," Lasse Leppäkorpi, co-founder and now former CEO of Beddit, said before Apple bought the company. "Snoring is embarrassing. But this has been untapped opportunity."
Apple, whose own Apple Watch tracks activity and offers sleep-tracking experiences through third-party apps, declined to talk about the future of Beddit. Leppakorpi noted before the acquisition that Beddit had been working with sleep labs like the MIT Lab, which used the devices to collect data on patients.
At the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, neurologist and medical director Clete A. Kushida tests new therapies and medications. Over the past two years, the analysis has expanded to wearable devices. The scientists assess how well the devices match the centre's own overnight sleep studies, which use measures such as heart rate and brain wave activity to determine the length and the stages of sleep.
Kushida's conclusion? "Consumer wearable devices are not there in accurately detecting the stages of sleep," he said. The problem: They focus on motion, which can be deceptive since a person could be lying in bed awake.