Planning Board Works to Strengthen Livestock Ordinance

The Derry Planning Board will look at updating the town’s Livestock Ordinance, in order to give Animal Control Officer Marlene Bishop and other officials the “teeth” to enforce the rules.
Bishop appeared before the Planning Board at its Oct. 2 meeting to discuss the ordinance, which was last updated in 2009.

The ordinance came to the board’s attention again this year after several complaints of a rooster crowing on Windham Road.
Town staff produced a draft update of the ordinance, which was presented in earlier meetings. Bishop did her own draft, which was more detailed.
The staff-revised ordinance allows roosters on lots containing a minimum of three acres. It prohibits roosters crowing from between 8 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. Bishop’s version states that they will not be allowed on property in condensed areas, so as not to create a nuisance.
The town ordinance permits livestock, including sheep, swine, chickens and goats, on lots of one or more acres. Bishop’s revision allows animals intended for slaughter to be kept on smaller lots, with a permit that expires after one year.
The current ordinance says all buildings, pens and enclosures must be located a minimum of 20 feet from any property lines; Bishop’s version adds, “Unless the property is owned on both sides by the same resident.”
The current ordinance calls for all livestock or fowl to be properly enclosed. Bishop’s version also includes a provision, “All such livestock or fowl shall be properly enclosed, and areas shall be maintained to prevent accumulation of mud and feces/manure.” Bishop’s version also allows for small amounts of animal waste to be stored for composting purposes.
The capstone of Bishop’s version is the last paragraph, which states that anyone who violates the ordinance shall be “subject to court procedure after warning given to correct the complaint.” Her version also has a provision that while existing lots will be “grandfathered,” if an animal dies or is removed from the property, it cannot be replaced.
A letter was read into the record from Ann Evans, co-owner of Derry Feed and Grain and a former Planning Board member. Evans, who sat on the board when the ordinance was written in 2009, said she favored a “less is more” approach. She said, “Further changes to the ordinance not involving roosters should be aborted.”
But Bishop contended that as the owner of a feed supply company, “It is in her best interest to have more animals in town.”
Bishop said she runs into an “extreme amount” of issues involving chickens and roosters. The current ordinance helps, she said, but gives her no tools for enforcement. She’s concerned about horses on smaller lots and people replacing their animals after they are grandfathered in
She said her version “will cover these issues without stepping on anyone’s toes.”
Bishop said, “We have two horses now on a 1/3 acre lot. We have people with swine that are not properly penned. They stick their noses under the fence, they root about a little, and then it’s, ‘See ya!’”
Bishop said she has asked residents to keep their roosters locked up until a reasonable hour.
She’s concerned not only about the neighbors but the animals themselves, she said, noting that “Animals have a right to be kept in decent condition and reasonable space.”
Sometimes people who buy a “lot” of baby chicks don’t realize some of them are actually baby roosters, Bishop said. In that case, “I can’t charge people with anything, but I can help them re-home the roosters.”
Where does she “re-home” a rooster? The Methuen (Mass.) Animal Shelter welcomes them, she said, and finds them new homes with local farms. Or she’ll find a local family with the acreage and desire to take another rooster.
The odor from large groups of animals is another issue, Bishop said. One woman in town had a large group of rabbits, and, “The odor was incredible,” she said. Bishop had complaints from people living downwind, and she talked with the owner and tried to work something out.
“Five or six rabbits isn’t a problem,” she said. “But she had 25 or 30.”
Another woman had a landscaper come in, to give her the backyard of her dreams. “The neighbor’s chickens got out and ran all over it,” Bishop said.
Member Darrell Park said he’d like to see the ordinance kept simple. “It’s impossible to regulate common sense,” he said.
Chairman David Granese said he’s fielded complaints from people about their neighbors’ animals. “If you go there with the current ordinance, what is the fine?” he asked.
“There is nothing to fine,” Bishop said.
Granese said the board in 2009 whittled a four-page draft into the one-and-a-half pages that is the current ordinance. “You can wave this paper in their faces and it doesn’t change anything,” he said. “If we came up with some kind of enforcement, would it help you and Bob (Code Enforcement Officer Bob Mackey)?”
“Absolutely,” Bishop said.
Resident Eunice Giles, who has kept chickens and roosters for 16 1/2 years, said she kept her fowl penned and clean. “I breed them – one of my lines is eight generations,” Giles told the board. There are other responsible owners in town, she said.
“Nobody should keep a rooster under their neighbor’s window – that’s just rude,” Giles said.
Vice-chair John O’Connor suggested a system of a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, culminating in a fine.
The board agreed to discuss a fee structure in another workshop on Dec. 4.

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