Alyssa Kohlman has a lot invested in her scrambled egg breakfast.
She spent roughly $1,000 to bring two hens from her flock of six with her when she moved moved to Vancouver from Colorado a few weeks ago.
“Totally nuts, I realize,” she said. “But my animals are pets, they’re not livestock.”
Vancouver city council amended the animal control bylaw in June, allowing residents to keep hens for egg production in their backyards. Now, people and chickens coexist happily despite regulations some consider excessive.
Duncan Martin lives in East Vancouver where he keeps hens, builds chicken coops and sells them to neighbours. He said people are worried about the logistics of keeping hens in the city.
“When there are all these regulations, it can be a scare tactic in a way,” he said.
Still, the community of hen owners grows in the city’s east side. During the last few months, residents have gathered at workshops to learn about how they can bring chickens into their lives.
Chicken owner Laura Arpiainen spread hay on the coop floor to keep her hens warm on the first day of snow. Her Buff Orpington hen pecked at leftover tofu and grapes.
Arpiainen said she has become the poster child of a “happy new chicken owner” for Village Vancouver, a group that promotes backyard hens.
Unlike many coops in the Commercial Drive area, her henhouse is over three metres from doors and windows and one metre from property lines, as required by the zoning bylaw.
Residents must also register their chickens with Animal Control, according to the animal control bylaw. A city official said 18 people have done so to date.
Arpiainen said she has registered her coop, but some residents may hesitate to tell the city they are keeping chickens if their henhouse does not meet regulations.
Related: Backyard chicken facts
The bylaw stipulates that each yard may have one coop with up to four hens, but no roosters and no chicks. On discussion forums at villagevancouver.ca residents mention violating these and other provisions.
The website’s “Chicken Coop Co-op” has 46 members.
One contributor listed the eight hen breeds represented in her flock and added, “Please don’t add up my numbers. Trust me… it adds up to 4.”
“We don’t go around neighbourhoods hunting for coops,” said John Gray, assistant manager of Animal Control. Instead, complaints drive bylaw enforcement.
Gray said they have only received about 30 complaints regarding chickens since legalisation.
Many of the calls came from only a few sources, who may have been involved in a neighbourly dispute, Gray said. He added that concern with the henhouses was primarily aesthetic.
When a complaint is filed, an animal control officer will visit the property in question. The officer may asses a $250 fine per violation. However, a resident who shows willingness to bring their coop in line with regulations promptly would likely avoid a ticket, Gray said.
Martin said he would advise someone interested in buying a coop from him to talk to their neighbours, because that could affect whether they will get a visit from Animal Control.
He said he keeps his hens on a friend’s property because the other residents of the duplex where he lives didn’t want them in their yard.
“They were all for it until they saw the actual building materials for the coop,” Martin said.
‘It takes a community’
Coop owner Arpiainen said that chickens help break down social barriers and connect neighbours.
The animals are “such a great thing for the neighbourhood,” Arpiainen said.
She said that nearby residents know her as “the chicken woman” and often peer over her fence to see the hens.
One woman admitted to Arpiainen that she entered the yard to feed the hens because they looked hungry, she said.
“It takes a community to raise the chickens, I guess,” Arpiainen said.
Kohlman often takes her immigrant hens to hunt for grub in the communal garden behind a set of town houses next door.
The residents love the visits, she said, and are talking about complementing their garden with a large chicken pen. They reason that the coop could accommodate up to 16 hens since their collective yard spans four lots, Kohlman said.
Related: Backyard chicken facts