Louise Arbour says you gotta fight for your right to poultry.
Since founding Poulet en Ville in 2015, the businesswoman, writer and activist has made quite a name for herself teaching people about the pleasures and pitfalls of raising hens in their own backyards, a plucky effort that has yielded a book, Des poules dans ma cour, a webinar, and lots and lots of eggs.
And then there's the backyard chicken activism.
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"I don't want to sound like too much of an activist or be accused of lobbying or whatever," she said.
"Because I am behind a movement of putting together city groups through Facebook of citizens fighting and working together to coordinate this and organize themselves to move and push it in their own cities."
Arbour is behind a provincewide initiative to legalize urban hens in cities across Quebec, and the Montreal borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce could be next.
The latest — called Pour la légalité des poules à CDN and NDG/urban hens in NDG and CDN — launched in January and interested urban egg farmers can join.
A history of chickens in Montreal
Since the enactment of bird-banning bylaws in the 1960s, raising backyard chickens in Montreal has been illegal in many boroughs for a wide variety of reasons, said Arbour.
"They wanted to keep the city clean and they were worried about big farms," she said. "Not keeping a few hens here and there."
At the time, there were health concerns as chickens carry diseases with alarming names, like pasty butt and the fowl plague, and can also attract vermin and predators — and then there’s the smell.
But once again allowing Montreal residents to own hens under sensible regulations makes sense, Arbour said.
"If you use the right litter and the right products there's no smell at all," she said. "And if you buy vaccinated hens only and you follow the proper procedures with the right coop and the right systems you don't have problems."
There have been chicken problems in the past
The SPCA reported an alarming increase in the number of chickens being abandoned or dropped off at shelters after some boroughs began allowing backyard hens, most notably Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, according to the CBC.
"It was very badly done, very badly handled," said Arbour.
"There were a lot of problems, which have created a negative perception in Montreal."
Arbour blamed overeager urban farmers who bought birds without knowing how to care for them.
"The challenge is related to education because people are excited," said Arbour.
"They see some advertisements or nice pictures. They buy a small coop in a hardware store, they put it in the yard in the summer but they don't know what to do with their chickens in the winter. They don't have any training and they do a lot of bad stuff."
Here’s how to get involved
For Arbour, who has been raising hens for fun and pleasure since becoming a homeowner in 2004, chickens are more like friends with benefits than farm animals.
They have their own distinct personalities and can be very entertaining, she said.
Plus, fresh eggs.
Also, they provide educational opportunities on food production for children, are fairly low-maintenance, and will eat all your table scraps.
If you’d like to join the campaign to legalize hens in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Arbour is looking for two or three moderators interested in receiving training and coaching.
Once the movement gets organized, the time will be right to approach municipal authorities about changing the bylaw, after which the group will pivot to a supporting role to provide an outlet for chicken keepers, she said.
"But right now, we're not ready," said Arbour. "Some groups have been around for four or five years and there's a lot of work that has been done in the past. This group is just starting so we need to educate people in the group about backyard chickens and what they need to know."