Avian flu fears ground backyard chickens in PW

Noah Needham checks on the eggs in his family’s chicken coop in early December 2021.

The chickens will not come home to roost in Plympton-Wyoming.

Town council, citing concerns about the Avian Influenza, decided against a bylaw which would have allowed homeowners to raise up to 10 chickens in the backyard to produce eggs for their families.

The town began dealing with the issues during the pandemic when a neighbour complained about the coop in the backyard of the Needham family. Jon Needham said at the time the chickens became a family project during pandemic and said they were therapy for his son, who is autistic.

He also told council there were as many as 2,000 backyard birds in Plympton-Wyoming according to the local feed dealer. Council gave the family a reprieve from the bylaw which prohibits farm animals and agreed to consider a bylaw to regulate the process.

This year, the town has held a number of public meetings with the community being almost evenly split on whether the move should be allowed. Monday, there were over 200 people listening in when council deliberated the bylaw. The town had received 45 letters and emails, 28 against and 15 for and five with concerns about the coops.

But it was a letter from Ontario’s Chief Veterinarian and a local poultry farmer which convinced council this was not the time to allow families to raise chickens in the backyard.

Cathy Furness, in a letter to a local poultry producer, said the province had just banned events where birds are brought together because of concerns about Avian Flu.

Furness added the Canadian Food Inspection Agency might “impose permitting requirements” to help fight the highly pathogenic avian influenza.”

Scott Helps, who is an egg farmer in Plympton-Wyoming also urged councillors to nix the idea of backyard chickens. “This is a complicated disease that is very serious, and I can’t stress it enough…. the compromising of that food system. Mr. Napper and council that’s is in jeopardy.”

Helps says there were 26 cases of Avian Flu last year and four more right now. Poultry producers who find it in their barns are forced to kill all the birds, sanitize the barns and wait a set period of time before any other birds can be brought in.

“I want to make sure you understand the severity of what happens when an AI thing is protected. And it’s with their strict protocols that have to take place in order for them to be able to deal with that. I think it’s the number one concern,” he says.

Helps added officials have found the disease in other animal groups now and expressed concern where it would be found next.

That was enough to tip the balance for Councillor Mike Vasey who said he was leaning towards allowing backyard chickens.

“I really don’t care. I flip flopped on this for two years. And when we got reading through the experts, that is what’s kind of swayed me to the point where I can’t support this,” he says.

“I can’t see jeopardizing our food supply or big farmers that are around here – whether it’s chicken eggs, turkeys, I don’t care … the risk of that outweighs the benefits of having the chickens. Sorry.”

All but Councillor Tim Wilkins voted against allowing backyard chickens.