PELHAM — Animals outnumbered humans at the Pelham Saddlery on Saturday as residents brought all types of livestock to the Windham Road business to protest the town's ban on farm animals on lots smaller than 3 acres.
Theresa Wentzell, who has two horses on her 2-1/2 acre property off Meadow Lane, said the ban, which was aimed at malodorous pigs and was passed by voters in March, is a sad sign of the times and should be overturned.
"People want to move here but when they get here they want to change all the rules," said Wentzell, a 20-year resident who owns a mini-horse named Nate and a full-grown horse named Della.
She stood in a makeshift pen with her horses, while around her, in small pens, large enclosures, and livestock trailers, chickens clucked, goats looked around curiously, two donkeys eyed visitors from behind a metal gate and an alpaca stood quietly in the shade.
Children wandered around, some of them carrying chickens they had raised, while their parents and other visitors to the event discussed the ban and how to overturn it.
Their hope, people at the animal expo agreed, was to put a question on the ballot for the March 2020 town election that would overturn the ban on livestock -- excluding poultry -- on properties under 3 acres.
They said the initial ban was put in place because one person was upset that a neighbor was raising pigs next door and the pigs smelled. But many in town either didn't know the question was on the ballot or simply didn't understand its ramifications.
"It was kind of snuck through all the channels," said Amanda Graham, who grew up in Pelham and frequently visits her mother, Wentzell. "It shouldn't have come to this. It's an unfortunate conundrum."
John Spottiswood, one of the organizers of Saturday's gathering, said New Hampshire is a right-to-farm state, meaning people are allowed, by right, to have farm animals on their properties. Unless, that is, a local ordinance is passed overruling that state rule.
That's just what happened in Pelham earlier this year, and many people who are involved in 4-H activities, grow animals for food, or simply enjoy being around them, say they are being negatively affected.
In particular, Spottiswood said, if the ban is allowed to remain in place, as farm animals eventually die and can't be replaced, nobody will have farm animals unless they are on a big piece of property.
"Over time," he said, "it will whittle away to nothing."
He said he has about 2-1/2 acres of land and in the past has had turkeys, chickens and rabbits, among other animals. He said while chickens are still allowed under the ban, rabbits are not. Also off the list are horses, cows, pigs, alpacas, goats and any other type of farm animal that doesn't lay eggs or play some role in that endeavor.
Jeff Cairn of Brush Hill Road keeps his two Sicilian donkeys -- Daisy and Levy -- on 1-1/2 acres of land.
"Nobody ever complains," he said, noting that most people in town enjoy seeing his donkeys, which harken back to Biblical times and carry a black marking across their backs that looks just like a cross.
He claims people were confused by the ban when it was initially proposed.
"No one understood the wording," he said. "We didn't even vote because we didn't understand what it would mean."
When it passed, and people started to realize what it meant, they were shocked.
"If it's not overturned, we're moving," Cairn said.
Jim Philipson, who attended the event with his daughter Jordyn, 2, said he has chickens but supports the rights of residents to have any kind of farm animal they want.
"I'm here to support the right of people to have animals on their own property," he said, adding that when the vote came up, he didn't even know it was on the ballot.
"I don't remember seeing it, but I would definitely vote against it," he said. "I hope it gets overturned."