News

Mennonite hens a fact of life in west Norfolk

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Jody Hoag of Hoag Family Farms, near Vittoria, says backyard chickens are good company and produce delicious eggs. This week, Norfolk council modified its policy on poultry by allowing residents within hamlet boundaries to keep a handful of chickens in their backyards for a trial period of one year. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

Jody Hoag of Hoag Family Farms, near Vittoria, says backyard chickens are good company and produce delicious eggs. This week, Norfolk council modified its policy on poultry by allowing residents within hamlet boundaries to keep a handful of chickens in their backyards for a trial period of one year. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

VITTORIA - 

Norfolk’s hamlets soon may be known for their omelettes.

In a piece of after-the-fact fine-tuning this week, Norfolk council modified its position on urban chickens in the county.

Keeping chickens and other livestock within the boundaries of Norfolk’s urban centres continues to be forbidden.

However – as of this week -- anyone who wants to keep a half-dozen chickens in their backyard can do so in any of the county’s 23 hamlet areas.

Norfolk council made the adjustment Tuesday after learning many Mennonite families in hamlet areas of west Norfolk already have a coop in the backyard. There seems to be no problem with this arrangement and council wants to leave well-enough alone.

“If this had passed, this would take this privilege away from them,” Mayor Charlie Luke said.

When Norfolk council on July 4 recommended against backyard chickens outside the agricultural zone, there was support for poultry in hamlet areas but not in built-up urban areas.

Council distinguishes between the two because homes in hamlet areas tend to back onto farmland. There is not the cheek-by-jowl housing density in Norfolk’s hamlets that one sees in urban subdivisions.

Over the past few months, Norfolk staff identified several red flags that prompted council to reject the idea of urban poultry July 4.

There are concerns about odour, noise, flies and the possibility of chickens and their feed attracting coyotes, raccoons, skunks, rats and other vermin to areas they would otherwise avoid.

Council concluded that an across-the-board approval would prompt new kinds of complaints it isn’t used to hearing.

“There are a lot of people in hamlet areas that already have chickens and it doesn’t seem to be a problem,” Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt said.

Haydt keeps chickens and other livestock at his farm in Walsingham. At Tuesday’s meeting, Haydt suggested the concerns some have about chickens are overblown and probably unfounded.

“The other night I had a coyote come up on my front porch but they leave my chickens alone,” he said.

“Some say flies will be a problem but chickens eat bugs. I think that might be one reason why their eggs taste so good.”

Haydt’s chickens produce about one wheelbarrow of manure a year but he said that’s not a problem. “It’s good for the garden.”

Hamlet chickens in Norfolk could prove popular. People who keep a few hens around say chickens are interesting animals and pleasant company.

Jody Hoag of Hoag Family Farms of Vittoria has about 50 Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rock layers.

They each produce about one egg a day and are popular with visitors. Hoag Family Farms sells the free-range eggs they produce for $3 a dozen.

“Their eggs are absolutely delicious,” Hoag said Thursday. “And knowing where your food comes from is really good. They’re friendly and they follow you around.”

Council will review the new policy in the summer of 2018. Modifications are possible depending on how the community responds to the change.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com