The new program allowed 100 residents with successful applications to raise chickens in their backyard. PHOTO: JOSH LARIOS/WIKI COMMONS

Calgary’s new Urban Hen Program has officially hatched in the city, allowing residents to raise chickens in their own backyard. 

Francine Gomes, who is used to raising hundreds of chickens in the Kootenays, is happy to be one of the first applicants of the new program.

“Being able to keep chickens again in the city limits is exciting for me because of how much I love them. I’m really excited that I’m able to get fresh eggs again,” says Gomes. 

The battle for urban hens to be included in Calgary’s responsible pet ownership bylaw has been ongoing for around a decade. City councilors finally agreed to change the bylaw in June 2021 — with a tight vote of 8-6 — and the new Urban Hen Program began to accept applications on March 21 of this year. 

The city received 204 applications for the new program, of which only 100 were accepted for the 2022 group. For those keen to have pet chickens running around the backyard, there will be another chance to join the program in 2023. 

“We’re talking about people keeping typically anywhere from three to eight hens. For a lot of people that keep urban hens they treat them more like pets,” says Cassandra Kirkpatrick, an urban hen instructor with Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) — one of two organizations approved for training successful applicants. 

The introductory urban hen keeping course — designed to teach people everything there is to know about raising chickens within Calgary’s city limits — are offered by AFAC or River City Chickens.

Kirkpatrick says these introductory courses cover what the city bylaws are, how to build a chicken coop, what to feed chickens, potential diseases and the different chicken breeds to choose from.

Chickens can have a long lifespan if they are properly cared for, which is something to keep in mind when applying to the program. 

“The big thing is really just to educate yourself. They are a lot of fun and certainly enjoyable to have them, but they are a big commitment too. They can live 10 to 15 years with proper care so they’re a long term commitment just like any pet,” says Kirkpatrick. 

Urban hen keeping — especially in a city that can get as cold as Calgary — also has its differences from agricultural hen keeping. Margaret Fisher with River City Chickens says a larger flock allows the chickens to keep themselves warm during the winter. Urban hen owners with small flocks will have to get creative. 

“It’s difficult for chickens to generate enough heat to stay warm. So the coop design and build have to be extremely good and very well insulated and very well ventilated,” says Fisher. “There are no ready-made coops that are suitable for our climate in Alberta. These coops need to be constructed and purpose-made and there’s certainly a good outlay of cash in that.” 

Ultimately, urban hen keeping requires lots of research and development of property if one wishes to host chickens in their backyard. 

“Obviously be prepared that there’s work attached to it. Chickens don’t lay forever…. Essentially you’ve got to enjoy the chickens as a pet just as much as you would enjoy it for its production,” says Gomes.

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