Laying hens will soon call Toronto home, thanks to The Most Important City on the Planet recently lifting a ban on backyard fowl in four of its wards. That any mammal — human, chicken, lawyer or otherwise — can find a way to live in a city where the average home mortgage term is only slightly shorter than the time it takes coal to become a diamond, is encouraging.
And I recognize the allure of raising hens for low-income families — especially those hoping to save money by honing their cooking skills. Eggs are very forgiving. Screw up one egg recipe and you have 11 more chances to correct it. (Mind you, screw it up a second time, and it’s probably time to crack open that box of Pop Tarts for supper).
But, given my own experience with keeping hens at our small farm east of Lindsay, I’m also a bit skeptical of these soon-to-be urban, ahem, ‘farmers’ and wonder how they’ll handle a task that really has been the province of ruralites up until now — and should remain so.
Sure, there’s that whole chicken-crossing-the-road issue. (Which they do for reasons that will forever remain unclear). It’s one thing for a chicken in the Kawartha Lakes to dodge the occasional tractor, souped-up Chevette or horse-drawn Mennonite wagon as she saunters across two lanes of traffic to reach a side that is remarkably similar to the one they just left. Until my hens learn to retrieve my mail, their crossing my road will always be a source of personal frustration.
But it’s quite another issue for a hen to negotiate Toronto’s standard streets of 68 lanes, while chicken-dancing her way around tractor trailers, chip wagons, Ubers, bike couriers and, ugh, roller bladers.
Urban Hen #1: Why can’t we just cross at the corner? Where there’s a street light.
Urban Hen #2: Are you new to this? We HAVE to cross here. It’s in our DNA. Did you sleep through orientation?
Urban Hen #1: I was packing, remember? Heck, I was happy living in the country. But YOU wanted to make the move to The City!
Urban Hen #2: We’ll be happier, here. Trust me. You’ll thank me after we get our first pair of roller blades.
Neither am I convinced that raising one’s own eggs is any less expensive than buying them from a store or farmer’s market. This will come as sobering news to those Torontonians expecting to save enough money to off-set the cost of the $38 dollar designer coffees that are de rigueur there.
Factor in the price of feed, shelter, bedding and heat lamps in winter, and the eggs that I collect from my nine hens cost, on average, $35 dollars each, based on research findings that I made up just now. (Worth pointing out, too, that I stopped taking math in Grade 11. Or maybe it was Grade 10. I’m not good with numbers).
It’s equally troubling that one Toronto councillor who voted in favour of lifting the no-hen ban referred to chickens as backyard “pets.”
Trust me. They’re not. They’re livestock.
Misguided Hen Owner: Hey, girl! Wanna go for a walk? GO FOR A WALK?
Hen: Um, I’m working, here. You DO want breakfast tomorrow, right?
MHO: Ah…Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girrrrlllll?
Hen: Don’t you have a REAL pet? Oh, and that thing where you scratch my head and try to get me to roll over and fetch your slippers? You can stop that anytime.
MHO: But I’ve got your leash and everything! Don’t you want to cross the street with me so we can check out that new designer coffee place?
While I’m all for people from The Most Important City on the Planet developing a better appreciation and understanding – and respect – for where their food comes from and for the people who produce it, this new pilot project will not help to achieve this. When it comes to raising chickens, they’d be best to stay on their side of the road.