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Rosie and Cookie are priceless to East Vancouver resident Alyssa Kohlman

Backyard chicken coops skirt rules

Alyssa Kohlman has a lot invested in her scrambled egg breakfast. She spent roughly $1,000 to bring two hens from…

By Jacqueline Ronson , in City Feature story , on November 25, 2010 Tags: , , ,

Rosie and Cookie are priceless to East Vancouver resident Alyssa Kohlman

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.

Laura Arpiainen composts the manure she removes from her coop

Selective compliance

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 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.”

Minimal enforcement

“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.

Duncan Martin builds and sells his "Vancooper" henhouses

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


  • This bylaw amendment is really interesting. I wonder how many eggs you can get out of four chickens on average?

  • Aleks, I’m told that healthy hen in her prime could produce up to about 300 eggs per year. A lot of the coops I visited were not having so much luck, however. Some owners hadn’t seen eggs in a month or longer.

  • Jacqueline, this is a great article. I think chickens are a great idea for the east side of Vancouver, and for the city in general. Now only if it was the same in Victoria, and maybe it is: I will have to do some research. You are a good writer Jacqueline.

  • Hi Jacqueline, great article !
    My wife and I have been looking into this chicken thing for our youngsters to learn more about their food, we reviewed the bylaws and rules regarding coops from the cities websites. No free ranging, and the coops are supposed to be fully covered. We also checked out this Van Cooper at it also fails to meet the requirement of covering, and you can see from the pictures you have of Ms. Arpiainen’s coop this is the case. We also took a peek on the Village Vancouver website and sure enough it seems not many people are getting the bounty of eggs they where promised by these poultry promoters, and indeed, very few seem to play by the rules ! We still havn’t decided against it but the exorbitant costs of a coop, and lack of returns on the investment is something to be considered. It would seem store bought eggs are a more cost effective and stable supply then what 4 hens would produce for us given the knowledge we have now ! Thank you !

  • The saddest message I saw on the Vancouver Village was from a chicken coop member Sasha Fergason. It went like “A healthy-seeming hen seems to have just dropped dead. No injuries, she looked like she was sleeping. Anyone know what could have happened?”
    Another message from a different person tells of chickens in the Vancouver animal shelters needing homes. Seems some people can’t even take care of a chickens or two.

  • Todd,
    The bylaw states that the coop must “provide each hen with at least 0.37 m² of coop floor area, and at least 0.92 m² of roofed outdoor enclosure. To allow the enclosure to have maximum ventilation, I have provided a “roof” of rodent/predator-proof wire mesh, which can be covered with a 4′ by 8′ tarp (pitched from the coop roof to the end of the pen) for impermeability. I prefer to keep the tarp off in dry weather because it allows the manure to dry faster.
    The coop is large enough for 3 hens when following the bylaw, although it can be retrofitted to allow for an additional bird.
    I hope you decide to get chickens sometime – maybe not in the city if the regulations turn you off to it. Nothing beats the flavour of fresh eggs

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