By Doug Ireland
---- — In some towns, it’s not just a growing problem — it’s a crowing problem.
The popularity of raising chickens and other livestock has led to concerns in some communities over what should be allowed or prohibited to preserve neighborhood tranquility.
Towns, including Derry, have found themselves re-examining their regulations in the past few years as more people turn to raising farm animals for food and fun — especially chickens. That includes roosters, which are known for their crowing.
Although no figures were available, the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture has said the number of chicken owners in the state is on the rise. One possible factor is the repeal of a state law last year that prohibited the sale of less than 12 chicks at a time.
“With the push to have more whole foods, you see more people wanting to have their own eggs,” Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said. “We do have a number of residents who have chickens and poultry. From time to time, we get a call and have to look over our zoning regulations.”
Having a few hens that lay eggs may not be a problem, but keeping a rooster or two can disrupt an entire neighborhood.
“If it’s 5 a.m. and someone hears a rooster, that’s the last thing they want to hear,” Derry public works director Michael Fowler said.
That’s why town code enforcement director Robert Mackey has been asked to review the town’s animal ordinance and consider possible changes, he said.
Several Windham Road residents recently complained to the Town Council that a neighbor’s rooster is crowing at all hours of the day and night.
“It’s a public nuisance,” Maureen Heard said. “It wakes us up at 3 or 4 a.m. It is really a frustration.”
Neighbor Robert Tripp said Wednesday he’s been awakened as early as 2 a.m. and has had enough of his neighbor’s rooster. The former Planning Board member said he’s reviewing livestock ordinances in other towns to see what action Derry could legally take.
The Derry ordinance requires residents to have at least an acre of land to keep chickens or any other livestock, including horses, cows and sheep.
Other communities, including Londonderry, require 2 or more acres. In Salem, at least 5 acres are needed.
East Derry resident Erica Doyon raises 18 hens on a little more than an acre. When two of her young flock turned out to be roosters, she got rid of them.
“We chose to get rid of them because we didn’t want to bother our neighbors,” she said.
Doyon said if Derry amends its livestock restrictions, she would be concerned if changes were made so that “one size fits all.”
Towns regulate livestock
While officials in other Southern New Hampshire towns say they have had no problems with livestock, others have said they sometimes receive complaints.
But the towns all have regulations, including setback requirements, that deal with the raising of farm animals, especially chickens.
“It really comes down to keeping the peace and the quality of life,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want folks believing that we are creating public nuisances or health concerns.
There is no specific acreage requirement in Plaistow, but barns must be at least 200 feet from the lot line and cages have to be at least 100 feet. Fencing has to be at least 50 feet from the line.
In Salem, Debra Casement had to request Zoning Board approval in May to raise six hens on her Shannon Road Property. She only had 1.9 acres instead of 5 acres. The board consented but there was a significant condition — no roosters were allowed.
For the last two years, the Kingston Planning Board has attempted to amend its livestock ordinance, but voters defeated the proposals each time. Both would have required a minimum of 2 acres to raise livestock. The current ordinance does not have an acreage requirement.
Kingston Selectman Peter Broderick said although livestock isn’t a problem in town, the board thought a tighter ordinance was needed.
Broderick has 17 hens, but said he gave up his one rooster because it was fond of crowing.
Horses can also present a nuisance to neighbors, especially if they often escape their pastures.
There are many horse owners in Kingston, Broderick said, but those he knows of have sufficient space to raise their animals.
Sandown Selectmen’s Chairman Thomas Tombarello, who owns two horses himself, said he knows of no livestock complaints in his rural town.
“We have not had any issues whatsoever,” he said.
But Londonderry has had issues with livestock and strictly enforced town regulations when necessary.
“We want to protect neighbors against noise and smell,” Planning Board vice chairman Mary Wing-Soares has said. “I think we have a standard in place and I don’t think we should compromise our standard.”
Earlier this year, Wiley Hill Road resident Jay Barrett was denied Zoning Board approval to keep a horse because he didn’t have enough property. Barrett had 1.6 acres, but needed 2 acres.
Two years ago, the Planning Board told Thornton Road resident Fritz Brown he couldn’t keep three chickens on his 1-acre property. Beacon Street resident Julio Otero-Rivera had more than 2 acres, but was ordered to get rid of his chickens, ducks, geese and other animals in 2011 because they were often running loose in the neighborhood.
While some towns are looking to tighten their livestock regulations, communities such as Windham are taking the opposite approach.
Community development director Laura Scott said the town loosened its requirements in 2011.
“We were seeing some people who wanted to have one or two chickens in the backyard but they had to have 2 acres to have chickens,” Scott said. “You don’t need 2 acres to raise two chickens.”
Voters approved an amended ordinance at Town Meeting that dropped the 2-acre requirement.
“ We want to support agricultural uses,” Scott said. “We haven’t had any problems since.”