In Terri Mason’s backyard in Sidney Street, there are barren patches in the lawn. Look closely and you can see unsightly mounds of soil causing root damage to grass.
The culprit? Ants. Her garden is overrun with them.
Mason knows she could spray and dust her property with chemicals. But these, she says, are harmful and would leach into Maple Creek’s precarious and rare groundwater.
Instead, she has a “holistic” solution: chickens. Last month, Mason submitted a request to the Town of Maple Creek to have two chickens in her backyard for the summer.
At its June 22 meeting, Town Council reacted positively to the idea, describing it as “forward-thinking”, but turned it down, saying it had been presented too late and more research was needed.
Mason said she would happily put together a plan and present it to the Town in the fall.
“Thanks for the consideration, concerns and enthusiasm for the idea,” she posted on the Town’s Facebook page.
Mason’s seasonal chickens request was submitted in a June 14 letter to the town.
In support of the request, she said her sister, Deb, who lives in Harder Street, had told her about a program in Kamloops called Rent-A-Chicken.
Mason provided a list of major cities in Canada that also offered an “organic” solution to the ant problem: Alberta – Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer; British Columbia – Kamloops, Kelowna, Vancouver, Victoria; Ontario – South-Western Ontario, Greater Toronto Area and South-Central Ontario.
“We all take such pride in living so close to the Cypress Hills, a region described as ‘Canada’s Galapagos’ due to flora and fauna found only there and nowhere else on earth,” wrote Mason. “This could be one more step in protecting this unique ecosystem.
“The bylaw would have to be written with your usual clarity to ensure no one takes advantage and opens up a 500-chicken facility in town because we all know some live to circumvent bylaws, but I’m sure I don’t have to explain that to town council. The fact that the current Cowboy Church is held in the old chicken hatchery site gives credence to caution.”
Mason said that if the bylaw was changed to allow seasonal chickens, perhaps 4H, as a project, could build portable coops, raise chicks, and deliver products etc, just like every Rent-A-Chicken franchise.
“I believe Maple Creek would be applauded for their forward-thinking (or is it backward thinking?) in allowing residents to organically and holistically take care of their ant and tick problem — and get fresh eggs to boot!”
At last month’s Council meeting, Councillor Cara Teichroeb supported Mason’s request, saying there was a national trend for using chickens to help with food security, as well as pest control.
“It brings a food source closer to the table,” she said.
Councillor Betty Abbott believed the Town should look at changing the bylaw, but not include a provision for roosters.
Councillor Al Fournier, however, urged caution, expressing concern about the danger of a proliferation of chickens.
“Two chickens becomes four and on and on,” he said.
Describing Mason’s suggestion as “forward-thinking”, Councillor Jill Roy wondered how a bylaw could be monitored. The Town doesn’t have a bylaw officer at the moment, she said, and Gary Schlageter, the chief administrative officer, was too busy to enforce it himself.
Councillor Corrine Collura liked the idea of seasonal chickens.
“I’ve looked at other cities that do have bylaws,” she said, adding: “I would be in favour of this.”
Michelle McKenzie, the Mayor, said she would not be voting in favour since the Town does not have the necessary rules and regulations.
She also warned about setting a precedent, saying: “If it’s for one, it’s for all.”
“I don’t want to have chickens running the streets like we have cats,” she added. “We don’t have the proper guidelines in place.”
Councillor Len Barkman liked the “forward-thinking” idea, although he had some questions.
“It’s a good thing that chickens don’t multiply like rabbits. Will this individual be the only one allowed to do it? What is the time-frame for seasonal? From the frost out of the ground to the frost is back in the ground?”
Councillor Teichroeb believed allowing Mason’s request could help the Town develop a bylaw.
“I think this would be a good test project … If we could just allow these two hens and follow this to ensure that our bylaw is in the right context. I think it’s an opportunity. It could help us as well as her.”
Councillor Abbott agreed with the concept of a test project, perhaps involving three people.
Councillor Fournier, however, said Council needed more information. He also believed that the request had been submitted a little late.
“It’s already the end of June,” he said.
“I agree with Al, it’s a little late,” said Roy. “I would like to see what plan she has for keeping her chickens.”
Schlageter said the Council needed to consider other bylaws that could be affected by the request, such as the animal bylaw and noise nuisance bylaw, and rules on bringing animals into town.
Councillor Barkman backed the suggestion of a test project.
“We need to communicate that this is a great idea. I don’t think we are against the idea at all. I don’t think we are ready for it.”
When it came to a vote, Teichroeb and Collura were in favour, the others were opposed.