Cochrane poised for possible hen pilot project

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Advocates for urban hens are clucking with anticipation upon learning that council will be presented with the possibility of an urban hen pilot project in Cochrane.

Supporters and naysayers alike are encouraged to attend the Feb. 27 council session, when town planner Nicole Tomes will present options for council’s consideration.

Tomes said her research indicates hen pilots are “tough to get off the ground,” but once approved they seem to run rather smoothly.

Jennifer Walden and Shawna Kerr-Smith instigated the sustainable initiative in November – providing a thoroughly researched report to council addressing the eco-friendly positives of urban hens (sustainable, food-producing, educational), as well as the concerns (noise, predators, odour).

Both are excited to see the fruits of their research come to the table and at the possibility of Cochrane hopping on the bird bandwagon.

Tomes said her research so far indicates that there is no evidence that correlates urban hens to an increase in predatory animals. She added that proper coop construction would be a big factor for any hen licence applicant, should council give the green light to a pilot.

She also said that while nothing is confirmed, four is looking like the possible magic number of hens administration would recommend – with consideration that hens are social animals and need to be in groups of at least three to thrive.

“It comes down to responsible pet ownership,” said Walden, adding that she has had a significant number of people reach out to her, expressing interest at being involved with the pilot and pledging their support through attending the next council session.

For CLUCK (Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub) founder and food activist, Calgary’s Paul Hughes, Cochrane getting the ball rolling is another sign that Calgary council (which last struck down urban hens in 2015) needs to get on board if it is committed to issues surrounding food security.

“All that CLUCK Cochrane is asking for is to be treated like any other pet owner,” said Hughes, confirming that he will be in attendance at the Feb. 27 council session and that he is “impressed” with Walden’s efforts and the rest of the CLUCK Cochrane members.

If done correctly urban hens are well aligned with the town’s sustainability push, said five-term Coun. Ross Watson.

“There’s a big movement in Cochrane right now … this is a ray of hope for the local producers,” he said, adding that he is cognizant of the need to “exercise caution” and to ensure that preventative measures are taken to ensure additional predators aren’t attracted – as Cochrane is a wildlife corridor.

Jenni Bailey took the reins for the Okotoks pilot project back in 2014 and saw it through its adoption as part of town bylaws this past fall, following a unanimous decision by town council.

This was a shift from the 4-3 vote that passed the pilot project two years earlier.

“I’m guardedly optimistic,” said Bailey, who will be at the month’s end council session to show her support.

There are more than 150 communities Canada-wide that permit urban hens.

Examples of Alberta communities that are either in a hen pilot phase or have adopted hens as part of their animal bylaw include Okotoks, Black Diamond, High River, Red Deer, Edmonton and most recently, St. Albert; these communities range from maximum limits between three and six hens and none permit roosters.

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Cochrane Eagle