Raising backyard animals for food security

Fur and feathers are a topic of debate for Sidney town council

Sidney resident Kerry Finley shows off his backyard composter and pet

Sidney resident Kerry Finley is keen on rabbits as pets, but he also says keeping backyard rabbits and chickens isn’t only a solution to the problem of finding the perfect pet. They could also be the key to keeping your garden greener and ensuring food security in an emergency situation.

Finley, who’s kept a backyard rabbit named Rocky for more than 10 years, converted his entire yard into a garden a few years ago. He and his family are now able to grow enough fresh fruit and vegetables to sustain them through most of the year and Finley said he owes much of the success of his garden growth to Rocky.

“If I was able to, I would keep more rabbits because of the [benefits of the manure],” he said.

And Finley also says he feels that rabbits could be the answer to future food security in a disaster scenario.

“A lot of people don’t want to think about it, but in an emergency or disaster situation, rabbits could be great source of protein for us,” he said. “Often we’re told that in an emergency situation we should have three days of food and water. If the earthquakes in Japan [in March 2011] taught us anything, it was that we’re going to need more than three days of food. Keeping rabbits and even chickens could be the answer to that food source.”

Although Finley openly keeps Rocky as a pet in his backyard in Sidney, both rabbits and chickens have yet to be legally welcome in the town, but that could change soon.

At a council meeting on June 11, Sidney council moved unanimously to direct staff to draft a bylaw that would allow Sidney residents to own a small number of egg-producing chickens and rabbits as pets. Staff were also directed to work with Capital Regional District bylaw enforcement to draft an amendment to their contract with the town.

But some Sidney residents feel allowing rabbits in the town may open up the broader issue of having to deal with an eventual species overpopulation.

“I am astounded that Sidney would consider permitting rabbits in light of [the University of Victoria’s] recent experience,” wrote Sidney resident Helen Watt in a letter to the Peninsula News Review. “Could council be unaware of the potential impact? A crystal ball isn’t required to forecast the real potential for negative impact in Sidney, the ensuing debates and costs that will be incurred by taxpayers to address such a predictable problem.”

Sidney bylaw enforcement officer Keith Blott said the town and the Capital Regional District do not currently enforce the animal control bylaw, as it applies to pet rabbits and doesn’t feel changing the bylaw would result in a feral rabbit situation.

“We’ve never enforced the part of the bylaw in regards to people having a pet rabbit,” Blott said. “As far as people who want to have pets rabbits, they already have pet rabbits, so I don’t see a bylaw change affecting that.”

Blott did note, however, that the town and the CRD do have current complaints of chickens being kept in residential yards in Sidney and they do receive occasional complaints about rabbits on the west side of the town.

“We do have an issue with wild rabbit [overpopulation] in the industrial area of Sidney,” said Blott. “But I couldn’t tell you if those rabbits are wild rabbits or were domesticated at some point and now wild. I wouldn’t know.”

Both Central and North Saanich already allow backyard chickens and rabbits in accordance with their animal control bylaws, and Central Saanich bylaw officer Ken Neurauter said they don’t currently have any major problems with either.

“We do occasionally get calls about rabbits and chickens, but they are usually in regards to the enclosures not being kept clean enough or the enclosures being located on a setback,” he said.

With Sidney council on the summer meeting schedule, word on the bylaw isn’t likely to be heard until sometime in September.


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