Chickens, particularly the backyard variety, are under attack. Towns all over Eastern Mass are passing anti-chicken legislation aimed at limiting or eliminating the right of property owners to raise poultry.
Reasons vary from noise and smell to fears of bird flu and other nonsense. Too often those making the laws are not chicken owners themselves, holding prestigious positions and spending very little time at home. They’re not connected to their homes and yards and more often than not consider pets a nuisance rather than a productive part of a landscape.
My town is just one of many aiming to ban chickens. Void of an original thought, our overpaid paper-pushers copied legislation from another town and attempted to pass it without knowledge of the local chicken-keeping population.
The proposed regulations would have banned poultry in any number on lots less than 1 acre in size. It would have limited the amount of poultry on a lot to no more than 10 birds. Whether you have 1 acre or 100, the limit was 10. In addition to that, they also wanted to make poultry a permitted pet under the guise of needing to know where birds were. There’s simply no reason for this as the local dog catcher would not go chasing down chickens in the event of a natural disaster. Like with cats, it is up to the individual owners to evacuate their chickens and thus, no permit has been needed until now.
In addition to a permit and flock size restrictions, the town also aims to have every coop inspected, at random, by a person of unknown qualifications. Namely, the town health agent, who quite frankly could use a lesson on hygiene himself.
There were also a number of other regulations regarding manure disposal, set backs, coop size, food storage, etc. Birds were to be contained at all times, meaning no free-ranging. If any of these conditions were not met, the owner of the bird would face up to $100 per violation, per 24-hour period. There was no grace period set to correct any issues that the inspector found. Theoretically, if he decided that your coop was not large enough (he stated that 3 feet per bird would be required and from his description, he meant 3 feet by 3 feet, or 9 square feet), you would be required to get larger housing or eliminate birds in 24 hours or less or incur another fee of $100. The way the regulations were written, it could be a fee of $100 total or a fee of $100 per bird per 24 hours if the inspector deems your coop not large enough or in the wrong location, etc.
Given that the maximum number of birds allowed is 10, we’re looking at up to $1,000 PER DAY in fines for simply having a coop that’s perfectly functional and perfectly suitable for your birds, but too small according to the judgement of a man who is legitimately concerned about bird flu suddenly becoming an epidemic in our small town.
To me, this is just crazy. There have been very few problems in the town with poultry owners and there are already general nuisance laws that give the town the power to deal with any situations that may arise. One person that attended the meeting spoke of a repeat offender who would let their coop become rather odiferous during the summer months to the point that he couldn’t enjoy his pool, which was apparently irritatingly close to the property line. Ignoring the fact that pools have their own odor issues (as well as aesthetic issues depending on whom is using the pool), the pool owning neighbor was angry that the board of health visited the chicken owner 3 times and didn’t do anything. Further questioning revealed that they didn’t fine the chicken owner. They didn’t have them implement a manure removal plan. Nor did they ask the chicken owner to move their coop. All of these things could have been doing with the current regulations that are in place. The board chose not to do these things, resulting in an ongoing problem, yet they insist that further regulation is needed to fill a gap in their own incompetency.
This sort of reactionary regulation is happening in towns all over Eastern Mass. The current anti-poultry atmosphere is being fueled by a couple of people that are afraid of chickens and don’t understand how to care for them. When properly cared for, chickens don’t smell and if they do smell, the smell doesn’t travel. Unless you see a coop and convince yourself that you can smell it, there really shouldn’t be any odor issues.
As for noise, sure, roosters are noisy. So are barking dogs, idling tractor trailers, children playing in swimming pools, drunk people and surround sound systems. Unless it’s excessive, you really can’t regulate it. If you don’t want to hear anything your neighbors are doing, you need to move to a 50-acre parcel in the woods of Maine. These are the suburbs. If you buy a house on a postage-stamp size lot, you need to be considerate of your neighbors and understand that sometimes you’re going to hear things that happen on their property and vice versa. If it’s really an issue, talk to them. Come up with a compromise. Locking a rooster in a coop until later in the day or using a crow collar are 2 ways to keep noise down. If it’s smell, mention it. Most people aren’t jerks. Unless you’re a terrible neighbor, I don’t think your neighbor is going to mind cleaning their coop more frequently or planting some bushes to block the breeze. There are solutions that are less dramatic than banning an entire gender of a species from a town.
I hope this anti-poultry, anti-self-sufficiency situation changes soon, but I just don’t think it will. Has anyone had any luck fighting their town to keep their noses out of their chicken coops? I have the land to own chickens either way, but I don’t have the patience for a 2-bit wannabe telling me how much space I need for my flock and showing up unannounced to find reasons to fine me.