Ten hens a-laying can stay three years at Needham family’s home

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Heather Wright Photo Noah Needham checks on the eggs in his family’s chicken coop in early December. The Plympton-Wyoming family won’t have to get rid of their backyard chickens just yet.

Heather Wright /The Independent

The Needham family chickens live to see another day.

The Plympton-Wyoming family, who bought 10 chicks during the pandemic, raised them in their home on Gordon Road and then built a coop outside for them, faced the prospect of having to find new homes for the birds after a neighbour complained.

The town has a bylaw which prohibits backyard farm animals including chickens. But Jonathan Needham told councillors earlier in the year that the hens were not only a great learning experience for his family but had become like pets. And he says, they are therapy animals for his son, who is autistic.

Council deferred the matter until “after the pandemic” giving the family a temporary reprieve.

But on April 22, council passed a temporary use bylaw for the family’s home to allow the coop and the birds to remain for the next three years.

There was some concern as council considered how many chickens to allow. The Needhams have 10 birds but council considered limiting them to six. “The children named all of them and love them dearly, Juniper, tiny Elvis,” Needham told councillors as they tried to decide. “They’re all very much pets within our family.”

Council opted to allow the family to keep all the birds but not to replace them as the flock depletes.

Needham also asked council waive the $1,000 fee, since the birds are therapy animals, an essential item as deemed by the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Councillors waived the town’s portion of the fee, but not the $600 Lambton county portion.

Councillor Tim Wilkins didn’t want any fee charged: “Is he going to literally spend $600 here tonight to have 10 chickens in his yard over a bylaw that shouldn’t even be in place?”

That raised the ire of Mayor Lonny Napper.

“I take exception to you coming on here and telling us how stupid it is,” he said noting it was a very controversial issue when the bylaw first passed.

Wilkins apologized but added; “I’ve been in people’s backyards every day in Wyoming and there is a lot of people that have chickens in Wyoming, so they’re not really abiding by your bylaw now.”

Napper said council is obligated to act when a neighbour complains. If it doesn’t, he says, the neighbours can sue. “If you don’t like it, when it comes time, get rid of that bylaw,” he added.

Needham is glad the hens can stay for the next three years. And he hopes one day, council will consider making it permanent.

“People are wanting to do this. I appreciate your consideration with this temporary license.

“I also look forward to being able to speak in the future regarding the keeping of a small number of hens permanently on residential property,” Needham told council.