Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Summerside Up

So the above title is a pretty brutal play on "sunny-side up" that honours my father's ability (or inability at times) to make us laugh with dreadful puns.  Of what do I speak?

The very exciting possibility of getting laying hens in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

The backyard chicken movement is becoming pretty hot in some cities (see this article), with lots of suburban homesteaders raising happy hens to produce their own eggs, right in the comfort of their backyard.  A lot of municipalities will allow up to six laying hens, and I suppose each town or city will have varying requirements on the part of the owners in terms of care, housing, etc.

This is a pretty new trend in Prince Edward Island with only one case of note in the last couple of years in Charlottetown.  I'm not sure if that positive story inspired other backyard chicken aficionados in Charlottetown or not, but in Summerside the pleasing prospect of petite property poultry... capers (sorry, lost my little streak of alliteration) is all but unknown.  Upon looking up the by-laws in Summerside, it would appear that chickens, as well as a number of much more questionable members of the animal kingdom, such as bulls, donkeys, wolves, and lizards, are permitted within city limits as long as approval is granted by City Council.

When I contacted my city councillor regarding my desire to apply for a permit for backyard laying hens, he said I'd have to get in touch with police services.  I was a bit confused.  The by-laws said to speak to the animal control officer, which I assumed would be under technical services with City Hall.  But I did as instructed and contacted police services and asked who I should speak to.  The person who answered was unfamiliar with requests for poultry permits and said I should contact City Hall.  I did, and got bumped around from staff member to staff member, until the phone was picked up by a very helpful man in technical services who said I did, in fact, need to be speaking to police services.  However, not just anyone at police services, but, amazingly enough, the chief of city police, who would help me with the paperwork.

Really?  The chief of police was needed in order to fill out an application for a permit for three or four, dust-bathing, happily clucking, yummy egg-laying hens?

Surely he must have more important matters to attend to, such as prevalent drug issues, children breaking into construction sites and stealing vehicles, and young men crashing their cars into public institutions, such as the Rotary Library.  However, it seems that animal control responsibilities also fall onto his desk.

Needless to say, I was reluctant to contact the police chief due to the fact that such shenanigans, as mentioned above, must come (appropriately) at the top of his priority list and homestead hopefuls wanting backyard hens, probably somewhere near the bottom.

However, as spring approaches, I want to get this process underway so I bit the bullet and sent him a letter explaining what I wanted, that I was directed to contact him, and that I wanted to know what steps I should take to get the ball rolling on the permit application.  He emailed me back the same day, was super helpful, and set up a meeting for this afternoon, which I happily attended.

Apparently, there's only ever been one other application for backyard hens in Summerside, a number of years ago, by a man who actually already had a flock of Cornish hens on his property but was told he needed a permit.  So that is the only precedent that has been set in our community for this issue.  I believe he may also have been the same guy who had bantam roosters that were upsetting the neighbours, thus creating a slightly negative view of backyard chicken-keeping in our fair city.

So I went to police services, got buzzed in past the heavy security doors, and was taken to Chief Poirier's office to discuss the matter.  He had already done some of the paperwork for me, and had unearthed the other sole applicant's file to show me to shed some light on how approval is granted.  He had already made photocopies of forms that I need, asked me a little about my intentions, expressed his concern for the care and comfort of the hens, and sent me on my way with my homework.

All in all, it doesn't seem overly taxing, given the fact that they don't generally embark on this process.  I have to:

a) get the signatures of every neighbour within a 200-foot radius of my home, saying that they have been notified and are ok with me getting the chickens

b) write a formal letter to the police chief, outlining my plans and explaining why I want the birds

c) submit a plan of my chicken coop and housing/pen dimensions for review

d) have photos taken of my backyard, including location for the coop, trees and fencing available

e) outline my waste disposal plans for the manure generated by my (tentative) flock of lovely ladies

f) be subjected to a property inspection before approval, after one year of owning the chickens, should my permit application be approved, and then every two years after that

g) not be heard from again (i.e. do not allow my chickens to terrorize the neighbourhood).

Then the police chief will put together all my paperwork, contact the Department of Health to ensure there are no problems currently with avian influenza or any other communicable chicken diseases, and present my file to city council for approval.  It's really very good of him!

In the meantime, I am pestering my long-suffering father with chicken coop/pen/tractor ideas and how best to incorporate them into our small backyard.  I already have one signature on my sheet and haven't even gone door-to-door yet!  If all goes well, then hopefully this coming spring our backyard will be home to someone very much like this femme fatale:

Wish me luck!  If anyone has any comments on gaining approval for chickens within city limits, I'd be happy to hear them!


  1. Wonderful to hear your plan is moving forward!!

  2. I love this; it is still very much illegal here in Edmonton; I had thought about a covert chicken operation, then I found out the fine was $250 a chicken.....


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