Backyard birder Kate McMaster hopes her efforts to promote small-lot chicken coops spur discussion.

South Surrey chicken owner running afoul of bylaws

A South Surrey woman is working to change a city bylaw restricting the ownership of chickens to properties an acre or larger.

A South Surrey woman working to change a city bylaw restricting the ownership of chickens to properties an acre or larger hopes that the public discussion results in more awareness on food consumption.

Kate McMaster has been working with the city to change the bylaw since March, with the hopes of legalizing ownership of small-lot flocks, like the one she has on her quarter-acre lot.

The longtime South Surrey resident found out about the restrictions this year after bringing three hens – two Ameraucanas and an Australorp – home from a friend’s farm in Langley.

“Someone mentioned that they thought it was only legal to have chickens on acre lots,” she told Peace Arch News. “So I emailed city council right away to ask for permission to have these hens, because I didn’t want to do something illegal.

“The only councillor who got back to me was Marvin Hunt, the rest pawned me off to bylaws.”

Upon the realization that her three hens were technically illegal, McMaster spurred into action, creating the Surrey Backyard Chickens Facebook page and starting up a local chapter of the Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub (CLUCK), in the hopes of legalizing not only her clandestine coop, but the many dotted all over the city that she had seen over the years.

Growing up on the Prairies, McMaster had chickens on her property. The experience fostered an appreciation for the food she consumes – something she hopes to pass on to others.

“I am a farm girl at heart, and I think that we have a massive disconnect between ourselves and our food supply,” she said. “I know kids who think food comes from Safeway – beef and chicken, they say Safeway. It boggles my mind.”

After winning an unanimous endorsement from the city’s agricultural advisory committee on June 13, McMaster is now focusing on creating a education package on raising backyard hens and plans on collaborating with the city to create a pilot project for small-lot flocks.

“I’m hoping to get 10 families on board and see how it goes,” she said. “I guess I’m the beginning of the pilot project because I’m already raising three hens.”

With her small flock – affectionately known as Consuela, Maizie and Oz – McMaster noted she has only received one complaint from her neighbourhood.

Unlike roosters, she said, hens make little to no noise, and as long as the area is managed properly, there is no smell or influx of tricky pests – such as rats.

“Chickens don’t attract rats, mismanagement of feed does,” she said.

With more meetings with the city in the weeks to come, McMaster said she is hopeful public discussion can spur more interest in where food comes from.

“That is where I think – and where I hope – we’re heading towards,” she said. “Food security begins in your own backyard, and that’s where I am at with this.”

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