Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Fowl: Weekend at Leland's
This past March twelfth I headed to my friend Leland's farm in Cambelford for the nearby Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival. At this festival we celebrated the end of the sugar harvest with a massive pancake breakfast, syrup on snow, and a log sawing competition. Although I enjoyed the trip and festivities, particularly the breakfast at which I received all the maple syrup sausages of my vegetarian companions, I had an ulterior motive.
Leland is proprietor of a coop of beautiful chickens, and I will take any opportunity i get to go and visit them. These chickens have wonderfully decorative feathers and produce the most magnificently coloured eggs. The eggs come in pale blues and browns and have richly flavourful yolks. These birds are nothing like the poop covered White Bantams that I've seen crammed into massive coops in movies like Food Inc. They don't peck each other, or pick out their own feathers from stress. They are given enough room to run in the day, and yet still huddle together at night in cute sleeping arrangements. Having the opportunity to spend time with the chickens at Leland's farm has inspired me to make a chicken coop, so I can keep egg producing hens in my downtown backyard.
For things like smokehouses, cheese-presses, and compost bins, it's fine to "wing it" without plans, and figure out later if they work. For a chicken coop, that will be housing live animals, I would rather approach the building process with a little more care. So I purchased plans for a coop design that was suggested by www.torontochickens.ca. This coop provides room for six hens to sleep in a roosting box, and a wired in grass area for them to walk. The benefits of having a design include, being provided with the know how to make the coop easier to clean, and keep out predators, like cats and raccoons. My older Italian neighbors, all of whom have had chickens in their backyard at one point, will also be great sources of advice on keeping the hens happy and safe.
I am approaching this project with a bit of apprehension because of the illegality of keeping chickens. This is not so much a fear of reprisal from law enforcement, but rather I worry about what I would do if a chicken gets sick or injured. Would I be able to take the chicken to a veterinarian? Without proper policy in place to help people with backyard food producing animals it puts urban farmers in a precarious position. This is why I have been discussing this issue with city councilors and the Toronto Food Policy Council to see what initiatives can be taken. My ultimate goal is to make our coop a part of a pilot project for keeping chickens in the city of Toronto.