When twin brothers Andrew and Matthew Patel decided they wanted to start raising chickens three years ago following a visit to their grandmother’s childhood farm, they made sure to ask their Leaside neighbours’ permission first.
All were supportive, none more so than Marjorie Noakes, who has been a family friend since they were infants.
“I know that I am hard of hearing, but I didn’t hear any complaints at all,” says Noakes, now 91, whom the brothers have called “Muffy” ever since stumbling over the pronounciation of her name as toddlers. “Some neighbours got their eggs delivered fresh anyway.”
It just so happens “Muffy” is the 17-year-old brothers’ only named chicken — purchased before they stopped naming them after one died of heart attack and another was mauled by a raccoon. The black-and-white Polish crested hen won first prize in her breed’s category of the Poultry, Waterfowl and Pigeons competition last week at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
In total the brothers entered 17 birds, seven of their own and 10 loaned to them by Marcia Stevers, the farmer from whom they had purchased their first four chickens. Twelve birds, including five owned by the brothers, won awards.
“Like the horse show or dog show, a chicken show tries to find the perfect specimen,” Matthew enthused on Monday. “So the judges were comparing our birds and other peoples’ birds to a standard for each breed.”
Only Muffy won first place. A silver Ameraucana hen saw no competition because she was the only breed of her type submitted, but Andrew is convinced she could have won third prize, gauging by the judging standard. Two geese loaned to them by Stevers came in second in their competitions. Two hens won third-place prizes.
The twins, currently studying for IB exams at Upper Canada College, say they decided to enter the contest at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair because it would be their last chance to see their fowl friends win something before they leave for university in the fall.
“We wanted to finish with a bang,” Andrew said.
In spite of the dedication to raising chickens they have displayed, neither brother plans on studying agriculture.
Matthew is planning to study medicine, following in the footsteps of their father, who is a doctor. Their mother is an occupational therapist. Andrew is considering a career in law, prompted he says by what he considers unsatisfactory treatment by city hall on the matter of raising egg-laying hens.
Raising chickens in backyards in Toronto is illegal.
To date the brothers have been handed only a bylaw infraction notice, which Matthew suspects came from someone asking how they could secure their own municipal licence to raise chickens. Last year the brothers appeared before the city’s licencing and standards committee seeking to overturn a municipal ban on egg-laying hens. The committee rejected even the notion of a feasibility study.
The Patels have retained the services of two pro bono lawyers in case the city tries to lay charges.
Before leaving for school, they plan to send their remaining hens back to the farm, in the care of Stevers.