As the youngest members of the Toronto Chickens organization, the 14-year-old twins are fighting for their right to poultry. Earlier this year, they implored city council to lift the backyard-hen ban (so far, no luck), and next month they will appear in Crackdown!, a documentary about the battle between local chicken-keepers and the authorities who want to quash them.
Can you introduce me to your chicks?
A: The black one is Gertie, the red one is Mitzy, and Daisy is the white one. Daisy is molting right now, which is when they shed their summer feathers and grow winter ones. We also have two new chickens that we just picked up from the farm yesterday. The blond one is Bella, and we haven’t named the dark one yet.
What about “The Dark Knight”?
A: We really like more old-fashioned names.
M: They’d all be named Chicken if I had it my way.
Does each of the birds have a distinct personality?
A: Gertie is definitely the bully of the group. We don’t really know yet with the new ones. The small black one might even be a rooster, which would mean that the farmer will have to take her back.
Wait, what? So chickens don’t have male-female genitalia?
M: They do. They call them vents, which is where they lay eggs out of, but both sexes have them. Some breeds you can tell from birth. With Mitzy’s breed, for example, boys are always black and girls are always red. But in this case, we don’t know yet.
How did you get involved with the cause?
M: Both of us have always loved pets. Over the years we’ve had a chinchilla, fish, hamsters, snakes, birds, and crabs. We visited our grandmother’s childhood farm in Slovenia and they had pet chickens there. We just thought it was really great, so we talked to our parents about it and we connected with some of the members of TorontoChickens.com.
And you’re also involved in a club at school, right?
A: Yes. The club is called Bylaw Activism Club. We tried to name it the Chicken Club, but the school thought it was sketchy. We go to UCC. There are a lot of kids there who are into politics, so our club fights a bunch of different bylaws. Lots of them have to do with animals. Also smoking, noise, construction.
I can honestly say that I don’t smell a thing. How much work is involved in keeping the coops clean?
M: It’s not a lot. There’s the gravel bottom in their cage, so we just hose that down every few days, which disintegrates the poo. And we feed them, give them water, and collect their eggs. I do a lot of the taking care of the birds, and Andrew is more involved in the politics side—sending emails and keeping up on what’s going on.
So what is going on with the urban-chickens case?
A: This week we will hear a verdict in the right-to-food case. Paul Hughes [backyard-chicken crusader and former Calgary mayoral candidate] is challenging the bylaw against backyard chickens based on a section in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that every person has the right to provide themselves with food. Hughes is saying that having a chicken is part of his right to food, since he uses the eggs to feed his family. I’m not totally sure how that outcome will affect us.
You testified in front of city council back in January. What was that like?
M: It was great. We got to give a speech and we missed a day of school.
A: The city councillors are supposed to be educated about their wards. I don’t even believe some of those people. When they were voting on the report in January they denied getting all of this information we provided for them. It’s like they don’t even want to learn.
How is it that you’re keeping these chickens if it’s still illegal?
A: We’ve never gotten a letter telling us to stop. I don’t think they come looking for you unless someone complains first. Everyone at school knows, all our friends know, the garbage-men know.
M: We bribe the neighbours with eggs, and some of the little kids on the street like to come over and play with the chickens.
Tell me about your appearance in Crackdown!
A: Jan Keck, who directed the movie, contacted us and a bunch of other backyard-chicken owners to appear in it. He came over and filmed us cleaning our coop and feeding our birds. We just wanted to dispel all of the myths. The movie also has a funny fictional part, which is about the “chicken police.”
Do you know what you’d like to be when you grow up?
A: I think a doctor. Our dad is a doctor, so we’ve grown up around it. I’ve already done Grade 11 physics.
M: This guy watches so many medical shows, it’s crazy. And then he loves to talk to my dad about these diseases that he sees on TV. I might want to be a doctor, too, but ever since I was little, I always wanted to be a cowboy and I’m not putting that to rest just yet.
Preferred egg style?
M: Sunny side up.
A: Fruit Loops.
M: Frosted Flakes.
Baseball or hockey?
Drake or Bieber?