Thursday, December 5, 2013
OAKLAND — More Mainers in residential areas are keeping a few chickens for their eggs, an arrangement that sometimes comes with a problem for their neighbors: Noisy roosters.
In Oakland, if a brewing disagreement in between neighbors can’t be resolved soon, the Town Council may change laws regarding fowl.
Under the current ordinance, the town’s animal control officer can issue a $100 fine for a barking dog, but doesn’t have any way to punish the owners of a loud rooster.
Town Farm Road resident Steven Knight has asked the council to change the law to include roosters.
Council members asked Animal Control Officer Pat Faucher to try to resolve the issue through mediation, but some members said they were willing to consider an ordinance, if needed.
Under Oakland’s animal control ordinance, dog owners can’t allow their pets to “unnecessarily annoy or disturb any person by continued or repeated barking or making bothersome loud or unusual noise.”
Violations of the ordinance can cost the dog’s owner between $10 and $100.
Rooster noise is handled differently in towns across the state, said Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association.
He said the issue has taken on more relevance in recent years because more people in residential areas are looking for permission to keep between three and 12 chickens so that they can have a constant supply of organic eggs.
Waterville recently legalized allowing residents six hens, but roosters are not allowed. The same is true for Portland and Belfast, among many other larger municipalities.
Usually, there are few issues, he said, but “one of the sticking points can be roosters. Obviously, they make more noise than hens do.”
The best answer to the problem usually depends on local factors, including neighborhood density and neighbor relationships, he said, so the association doesn’t have a blanket recommendation.
Mark Savage, animal control officer for Kingfield, said he’s never had to respond to a complaint of a noisy rooster, and that the town has no specific rooster-related ordinances.
In Fairfield, both dogs and birds are governed by the public safety ordinance, which prohibits keeping animals that make noise for 10 minutes at a time or intermittently for a half-hour or more.
Oakland police Capt. Rick Stubbert said it might be possible to charge someone who has a repeatedly loud rooster with disturbing the peace, the law typically used to handle noise complaints, but that it would depend on the circumstances.
Town Manager Peter Nielsen said prosecuting noise complaints is difficult, because it is hard to say how much noise constitutes a violation.
There are no statewide noise standards, according to a publication of the Maine Municipal Association. Municipalities have significant leeway in enforcing barking dog ordinances, but the Maine Agricultural Protection Act prohibits enforcement of municipal noise ordinances against farm operations.
When the rooster issue was first raised before the council in July, by Nielsen on behalf of Knight, members were not inclined to change the law.
“I think where this person lives, way out in the country, I don’t think we should restrict farm animals,” Councilman Dana Wrigley said. “If this was an in-town issue, maybe I’d feel differently about it.”
The rooster’s owner, who was not identified by name, lives on Summer Street, which intersects with Town Farm Road. Attempts to contact the resident were unsuccessful.
On Wednesday, Knight appeared before the council and made a direct plea.
“Sometimes it’s a few hours a day, sometimes it’s 10 or 12 hours a day, sometimes it’s five in the morning,” he said. “It’s been fierce, trying to get over it.”
This time, some council members said they were willing to consider an ordinance change but they would rather see the rooster’s owner resolve the situation without them taking that step.
Perkins said that Faucher should “explain that the rooster needs to be shut down or quieted down or terminated. If he can’t, then we’re going to have to go to an ordinance.”
At the next council meeting, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, Nielsen said, he will report back to the council on “how we’re making out with this fowl matter.”
Jon Cox, another Town Farm Road resident who lives near the intersection, said he grew up in a farming environment, but that it is unusual to hear a rooster as persistently loud as this one.
“It drives me crazy,” he said. “I don’t know what it is with that rooster. That one cackles most of the day.”
Cox said he thought the crowing, which has been a subject of discussion among several neighbors, might involve two roosters on the same property, but he wasn’t sure.
“On my farm, if I had a rooster that bad, we had him for lunch,” he said.
Still, Cox said, he wouldn’t rush to amend the law to restrict the birds.
“I respect his right to have chickens,” he said. “I think you have to be careful of people’s rights to do things on their property. I’m a guy for freedoms.”
Knight said the town should pass the ordinance because he believes the issue is not an isolated one.
Nielsen said he fields occasional complaints about odor caused by chickens, but doesn’t remember anyone complaining about their noise.
If the Oakland council agrees to amend the ordinance, Faucher would be able to fine the owner, as he does in the case of barking dogs.
Single, and older, roosters are less prone to shows of dominance and less likely to crow.
A variety of websites offer advice on how to minimize rooster crowing. Suggestions include sealing the coop so that early morning light doesn’t penetrate it, which fools the rooster into thinking it is still nighttime; offering the rooster entertainment to distract it from crowing; and castration.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287