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.