EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 26, 2013

Editorial: Cock-a-doodle-don't


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Backyard chicken farmers in Derry may soon be in a bit of a cockfight.

The Planning Board is revisiting the town’s livestock ordinance and most of the attention seems to be focused on the king of the barnyard.

As the ordinance now stands, residents with 1 acre or more can keep chickens in their yard. But planners are considering increasing the minimum lot size to 3 acres for those vocal roosters.

But that’s the least of the potential changes that could throw local hen houses into a tizzy.

Under the nuisance section of the ordinance, planners are contemplating this addition: “Roosters shall not be allowed to crow between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.”

Good luck with that.

Telling backyard farmers to silence their roosters is akin to telling swineherds their pigs must fly.

Fish swim, birds fly, roosters crow.

Planners may try to find rules and regulations to fit every square peg into a round hole, but the laws of nature can supersede such efforts.

Well-known prizefighter Muhammad Ali, whose own swagger was not unlike that of the ruler of the roost, once said, “A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.”

Indeed. Local roosters, too, have seen the light and many of them are crowing.

Just ask some Windham Road residents, who have appeared before various town boards this year, seeking relief from one particularly raucous rooster, inclined to let loose at 3 a.m.

Roosters crow for all kinds of reasons — they’re bored, lonely, hungry, fearful. Ali apparently subscribed to one theory of silencing the leader of the flock, which says keeping them cooped up and in the dark will muzzle the mouthy birds. It can work, but it’s not fail proof, nor fowl proof.

Others, perhaps including the neighbors of that boisterous banty, subscribe to the philosophy espoused by Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, “Off with their heads.”

The Planning Board needs to find a happy medium. But that may prove as difficult as figuring out why the chicken crossed the road.

Planners have turned to longtime Animal Control Officer Marlene Bishop for some advice. She suggests roosters not be allowed in residential areas. She also advised the board to add this language to the nuisance section: “At no time shall roosters be allowed on property in condensed areas as to create a nuisance.”

While her decades of experience are valuable and some of her suggestions are sound, this really scrambles the eggs.

What about those residents with 3, 5, even 10 acres in “residential areas?” Would they, too, be barred from introducing a rooster for breeding purposes?

No resident should have to sleep year round with windows sealed up tight and a white noise machine running in the bedroom to block out the unwelcome cock-a-doodle-do.

The bucolic image of a proud rooster perched on a fence post with a rising sun behind is lovely, but regularly being awakened by an unhappy bird next door is not.

But common sense, the freedom to enjoy fresh eggs and neighborliness should rule here.

There’s a lot of unwelcome noise in the neighborhood — lawnmowers winding up at 7 on a Sunday morning, fireworks displays that wake the baby and set off the dog, backyard karaoke parties full of tone-deaf guests.

To prevent residents from keeping small backyard flocks — within the proper boundaries and with defined enclosures — flies in the face of what makes New Hampshire a fierce and independent place to live.

Planners should not increase the minimum acreage requirement to keep chickens, nor should they expect roosters or their keepers to time their crowing. They can, however, fine-tune the nuisance section to address those errant birds who just won’t shut up or the flock owner who doesn’t care if their neighbors ever get an uninterrupted night of sleep.

There’s a bad egg in every neighborhood, but rules shouldn’t be based on the possibility that one of them wants to keep roosters.