Vancouver City Council has approved a controversial proposal to allow residents to keep up to four chickens in their backyard for home-fresh eggs.

Councillors voted almost unanimously in favour of a 32-page staff report detailing everything from coop sizes to the creation of a $20,000 shelter for abandoned chickens.

The report cites increasing attention to issues of "sustainability, food security, and consumption of locally grown food" as the source of enthusiasm for urban chickens.

Chicken keepers would be required to register with the city, and provide chickens – hens only, roosters will not be allowed -- with adequate food, water, light and veterinary care.

COPE councillors Ellen Woodsworth and David Cadman supported the motion, but opposed the creation of a city-run chicken shelter.

"I am not prepared to support the city of Vancouver getting into the business of housing abandoned or seized hens. I just think that is a pandora's box that if we open it will grow and grow and grow." Cadman said.

NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton opposed the motion entirely, dismissing the entire issue as frivolous.

"We should be paying attention to serious and pressing issues," she said.

The report will go to a public hearing next month before council implements the plans.

Responsible chicken ownership

Leanne McConnachie of the Vancouver Humane Society admits the city's guidelines are comprehensive, but she worries about Vancouverites buying chickens as a "fad."

"In our experience, even the best intentioned people can fail to properly care for their animals," she told "People don't really know how to care for chickens; it's not something we all grew up with."

McConnachie calculated dietary requirements, veterinary costs and coop upkeep at about $400 per year – enough to buy roughly 70 cartons of free-range organic eggs.

And though the guidelines suggest making it illegal for owners to kill their own chickens, she worries that could prove difficult to enforce.

"We have all kinds of bylaw enforcements -- that doesn't mean people abide by them," McConnachie said. "You can't force somebody to drive to Venables Street to bring their chicken to a slaughter plant."

"This whole movement has the earmarks of a fad, and when it comes to fads, they rarely end well for animals."

The entire report is available at the City of Vancouver website here.