Dispute with the Town’s bylaw department over their son’s chickens lands family in court

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Should you be able to raise chickens on a rural Huntsville lot that’s less than one acre?

Riley Ball thinks so. Riley, 10, converted a play house on the family’s property on Old Muskoka Road with the help of his older brother and dad into a chicken coop. He’s been looking after his 15 hens for the past two years and providing his family and friends with fresh eggs. But all that may be coming to an end.  Huntsville’s bylaw allows rural residents to have up to five chickens per acre. The Balls have about three-quarters of an acre and 15 chickens, which means they are in contravention of a bylaw they say is outdated.

They also say that because Huntsville’s bylaw enforcement is complaint-driven, and one of the neighbours complained, despite the fact that other neighbours have since come forward in support of the family the Town’s bylaw department is asking them to get rid of their chickens.

Riley’s mom Tanya says she knows who complained because another neighbour shared that information with her. “The complaint was she said that they were coming into her yard,” said Tanya. In terms of the smell, “the only thing we can think of was last year when it was wet and rainy. We have a lot of clay in our ground and it smelled mucky, everywhere smelled mucky. Other than that, we don’t know. She’s the only one complaining.”

The Balls have since put up fencing and started circulating a petition. That petition now contains more than 240 signatures in favour of allowing the family to continue having chickens on their property. It also calls on the municipality to revisit its lot size restrictions as it pertains to having chickens. Several of their neighbours on Old Muskoka Road have signed the petition and some have gone as far as penning a letter to the Town in support of the family.

In the meantime, the Balls have received a court summons initiated by the Town’s bylaw department for not complying with the bylaw. They’re scheduled in court on December 5.  But before that they will present their case to the Town’s Planning Committee on Wednesday, October 10 asking for the bylaw to be changed.

“They bylaw is outdated and it needs to be changed. People in Brampton and people in Toronto, Vancouver… all these places are entitled to have chickens. We are in rural residential Utterson and they’re telling us we cannot have chickens when we’re surrounded by farmland,” argued Tanya.  She said there are many other residents who have chickens in the Town of Huntsville and many live on less than an acre of land. She said they’ve been fortunate so far because no one has complained.

“We’ve had a lot of people come to us and say ‘we’re behind you 100 per cent,’ but some of them are afraid to say something because they don’t want to lose their chickens,” she added.

“We keep them good and clean with no smell and let them out every morning and put them to bed at night,” added Riley. “We only have five that are free range but we don’t let them leave our yard.”

From the family’s living room window you can see goats and chickens that belong to another neighbour and the Balls say they feel as though they are being singled out.

“On October 17 you’ll be allowed to grow four pot plants in your house, but we live out in the country on three-quarters of an acre and we can’t have chickens? It just doesn’t make sense,” says Riley’s dad, Darcy.

He said the issue was brought up in 2013. “The Mayor at that time, Claude Doughty, said it should be revisited.”

He argued that his son is being taught in school about sustainable living. “So they’re telling them one thing and then the Town is saying you can’t do that… we keep it tidy, the chickens have good living quarters, they’re heated in the winter time once it gets cold—we get eggs year-round,” he said, adding that the family does not have roosters, just hens because roosters can be noisy and they’re mindful of their neighbours.

You can find the online petition here.

From left. Darcy, Tanya and Riley Ball are fighting to keep their hens. They will be before Huntsville’s October 10 Planning Committee to plead their case.

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14 Comments

  1. Brian Samuell on

    What a pity. Bureaucrats locked in work that they know in their hearts is wrong chanting their mantra “I’m only doing my job”. Maybe some bright Councillor will propose changing the Chicken Bylaw so that Riley has eggs for breakfast and he doesn’t have to eat his surplus chickens and the bylaw people can get back to things more important than prosecuting child farmers.

  2. Some times Governments at all levels can be very slow to move … they get busy with the pressing issues of the day; what’s screaming at them the loudest.
    If the chickens are well looked after as described in the article and they have the petition support then – go for it and press the Town to revisit the bylaw.
    Most of us live a life very removed from how our food is produced and if children are learning good husbandry, then I’m in support.
    Who knows, one day Riley may be feeding many of us as the next ‘chicken king’ or Col. Sanders.
    Go ahead, egg on the council, scramble them up a bit, don’t let them push you easy -over. :-))

  3. Tom Holinshead ~ Springfield Farm est.1869 on

    Yeah chickens are a beneficial animal. Maybe the neighbour needs to curb the bug infestation in their yard. Riley you have my Farm’s support. Perhaps a postage stamp lot in town is more the neighbour’s speed? Not ever should a young person be discouraged from what you are doing, you are a breath of fresh air in reality.

  4. What a crock!!! This young man should be given an immediate exemption without any court appearance or any further hassle…. we`re not that many years removed from the family cow being kept within town limits….

    Just maybe the complaining neighbor`s cat should be ticketed for killing songbirds (as an example of further silliness)..

  5. Peggy Peterson on

    This is a story that reminds us about what is important. The people of Huntsville worked very hard on a Sustainability / Unity Plan and the only real action that came from all the work was the Chicken By Law. The Council of the day were not going to pass any by law until they were pressured by people at the meeting with good arguments . The result was they voted to allow only the five chickens instead of ten in the plan so this is not far from that first intention. Maybe this council will reconsider on Oct 10 or the next Council will have the opportunity to revisit this by law.

  6. Anna Mackenzie on

    This bylaw needs to be updated. Sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

    The argument that it shouldn’t be changed doesn’t have an intellectual leg to stand on.

    If the Town of Huntsville is actually committed to a sustainable future than they need to update this bylaw asap and if anything, make it easier for families to produce their own food.

  7. DAVE STEVENSON on

    We have over the last 27 years raised a variety of critters (geese
    ducks, chickens, rabbits turkeys, and goats) on our land, which is slightly LESS than an acre.
    If the Town bylaw dept. wishes to trouble me investigating a similar anonymous complaint, I say: bring it on.
    The Ball family including their son Riley does not deserve this aggravation.

  8. Forget the court appearance; cancel any possible fine; hold the present bylaw powerless for now. The entire subject of sustainability is surely worthy of its own section in the revised OP. What a pitiful message the Town is sending to Riley, his classmates, and his generation. I truly hope that this story is picked up by the Toronto papers.

  9. Perhaps the reason why there is a bylaw and that needs to be debated…..As far as smell is concerned , I think people who have animals ,dogs , cats , gerbils etc. become nose blind . I have two cats. As far as suggesting we should encourage bylaws that Brampton and other large cities have means it’s too late…..We are doomed !

  10. Chickens are about the speed of our bylaw enforcement department.
    They can do nothing about unauthorized vehicles parking in posted handicapped parking spots.
    Chickens? Lol.

  11. It saddens me to live in a town that continues to promote outdated rules and bylaws. There are so many people who are not complying to bylaws I witness on a daily basis. Some are enforced but most are overlooked. We are talking about chickens on a rural property. What’s next. No hanging out your laundry?????? Its time the town steps up to the plate and make the changes that need to be made. Do what you know is the right thing to do. Set an example.

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