By Doug Hallett
As chicken accommodations go, the coop that Chris Leclair has built in his backyard on Toronto Street is rather ritzy.
“It’s kind of like a doll house. It has a lot of interesting features,” he says of the big coop that houses four chickens he bought in the spring to lay eggs for his family.
Leclair, who knows of two other houses on his short street just south of downtown that have backyard chickens, thinks he’s part of a trend, one that could easily expand. “I definitely think if more people knew about it, they’d do it,” he says.
Leclair has the handyman skills that go with working for a small home-renovation firm, and he admits he got “carried away” when he built his coop. It includes a doll house-like front balcony with a curved awning over it, second-hand windows that open and have screens behind them, and even “30-year shingles to make it match our house,” he says.
It’s also raised off the ground to keep it dry and protect the chickens from urban predators, such as raccoons and skunks. A trap door comes down to make it easier to keep the coop clean.
However, people who want to keep urban chickens needn’t have anything so elaborate. “There is no reason they have to have a fancy coop,” he says.
For Leclair, his wife Courtney and their three-year-old son Holden, having backyard chickens means more than a convenient supply of fresh eggs that taste better than store-bought ones and come from “happy” chickens, he says.
They’re also a source of entertainment. “They are fun to watch. They peck and scratch,” says Leclair. “They run around, chase each other, look for bugs,” and they’ll eagerly eat kitchen scraps tossed over their fence.
The hens also maintain a “hierarchy, a pecking order,” which means they sometimes run at each and flap their wings, he says. “But it’s more feathers than fight.”
When it’s rainy, they stay in the coop, and when it’s not they come outside and “bask in the sun,” he says. Although the inside of the coop has a few perches, “they all huddle up at night on one perch.”
Fortunately, Leclair’s deep lot provides the room needed for the coop and fenced-in chicken run, so he’s able to comply with the city’s rules. A 1985 city bylaw says poultry can’t be kept within city limits unless they are in regularly cleaned pens with dry floors that are at least 50 feet from any neighbouring dwelling, school or church.
He and his brother Kevin, who together run a small renovation firm known as OBOTO Construction (short for One Brother Or The Other), bought several day-old chicks together in the spring. Leclair ordered four different breeds from the TSC farm store on Silvercreek Parkway, so his chickens are all different colours and easy to tell apart.
They all have different personalities, he says. “The white one is bossy.”
Hens start laying eggs – generally one every 25 hours – when they’re about 18 weeks old. They live five or six years, and their egg-laying proficiency declines with age, he notes.
When they lay an egg, he says, they come outside and “do a little call . . . they get pretty excited when they lay.”
For a while after being bought, the young chicks were all kept together in a box in his brother’s basement, with a heat lamp to keep them warm.
When winter comes, Leclair thinks he’ll need to use the heat lamp in his coop at times, but he expects the hens will cope with colder weather. “If you can keep their water from freezing, the chickens will be fine.”
However, the coop will need a light on a timer in winter to stimulate the hens’ hormone cycle and keep them producing eggs, he says. Otherwise, they’ll stop laying when daylight hours shrink beyond a certain point.
One things the hens don’t need is a rooster, Leclair says.
Roosters aren’t allowed in the city, because they’re noisy, he says. And “you don’t need a rooster to have eggs.”