Around 80 Falmouth residents gathered in the Morse Pond Auditorium Monday night, October 4, to share comments and concerns about the board of health’s proposed poultry regulations.
This was not a formal hearing, and the board made no decisions. Chairwoman Diana Molloy said the board would be taking all comments and suggestions into consideration while moving forward with the proposal process.
Board member George Heufelder explained why regulation might be necessary for the town.
“If there is no regulation, there really is no way we can negate that for the offended person. We totally understand there is a right to farm and there is a right to do many things. That right usually ends when it impacts somebody to the point where we need to address it,” Mr. Heufelder said.
Providing background information, Health Agent Scott McGann said Falmouth is one of the only towns on Cape Cod without a poultry regulation, and the board is seeking a way to follow up on complaints.
“One of the harder things to do as a health agent is resolving disputes between neighbors. Having a regulation helps us. Not having a regulation is an answer, too. For us, we just need the answer,” Mr. McGann said.
Board member Stephen Rafferty said he does not equate these regulations to an influx of residents during the pandemic, as one speaker suggested during the meeting.
Mr. Rafferty said the proposed regulations were instead part of board’s process of routinely asking the health agent for input on their working list of initiatives. Poultry regulations have been on that list for a while, having received complaints throughout the years, he said.
“The purpose of this discussion is not to stop people from farming or keeping chickens but to make them be, like the bulk of you, good chicken farmers,” Mr. Rafferty said.
The health department has not logged every single complaint it received over the years, Mr. McGann said.
“In general, we get a fair amount of poultry complaints. How many we exactly get I am not 100 percent sure,” Mr. McGann said
The board is working on posting correspondence regarding poultry to its website.
During the forum community members came up to the lecturn to share their opinions, questions, and recommendations with the board, addressing others within the audience who had concerns.
Some speakers highlighted the benefits of raising chickens with worries of food insecurity. Others asked why regulations were necessary in the first place, as Falmouth is a right-to-farm town, mainly agriculturally zoned and many residents have owned poultry for years.
Residents mentioned the need for regulations to monitor those “not responsibly” raising their poultry. The main concerns were over noise pollution and the smells emitting from coops and runs close to property lines.
Speakers on both sides agreed that an amicable solution could be found.
Resident John Michael said he is not opposed to homeowners having poultry. However, he is seeking understanding on how a noise pollution issue from a turkey or rooster is any different than one from a dog.
“What are your recommendations for your neighbors who are annoyed by the noise? There has got to be a middle ground, and I think we can come to it, but I just hear ‘We have rights.’ What about your neighbors? Your neighbors have rights, and I would ask you all to consider them,” Mr. Michael said.
Larry Vaughn, a Sippewissett property owner for 20 years, had similar noise complaints. Despite being in favor of chickens, a nearby rooster disrupts his own home as well as neighbors each morning.
“The rooster crowing is a major point of concern in the Gunning Point neighborhood,” Mr. Vaughn said. He presented a written record of neighbors’ disturbance complaints to the board for consideration.
Some, like resident Bill Kastin, enjoy having poultry in their neighborhoods.
Mr. Kastin went on to suggest that the board of health focus on the use of poultry as a way that property owners are choosing to feed their families when drafting the proposal and not draft regulations based on complaints without a comprehensive written record.
MaryKay Fox agreed during her comments that the board did not have the documented data to propose regulations at this point.
“If you don’t have that data, you cannot say this is a problem or this needs to be addressed,” Ms. Fox said, adding that compiling the complaints should be the baseline for the regulation proposals.
Others considered the proposed regulations as drafted to be too restrictive for lot sizes in town.
“While it may be that rules and regulations have to be enacted, the ones suggested are too extreme for this town,” resident and poultry owner Nicole Gouzias said, offering examples within the draft regulations.
“The sizes for chicken runs or square footage per hen are double the size than what most chicken breeders recommend,” Ms. Gouzias said.
Andrea L. Thorrold of West Falmouth came before the board with the hope that it will inquire with poultry owners by creating a working group to finalize the regulations with, “knowledgeable insight and everyone’s best interests at the forefront of conversations.”
“Collaboration is the best way to create anything that will serve a community well,” Ms. Thorrold said. “As the current version of the draft regulations are written, I see several issues that can be fixed with specific input from people who have a welcome experience raising animals.”
Ms. Thorrold went on to address the different methods of raising poultry healthily and how they can vary depending on available technologies, suggesting the board focus on the intended outcome and leave practices up to the individual homeowners.
“I would like to see Falmouth use all of its available resources—farmers, the agricultural commission, farming nonprofits—to support, encourage and educate about the benefits of the local food system and not add unnecessary burdens to participate in that system,” Ms. Thorrold said.
Climate policy specialist and resident Amanda McCarty came to the lecturn to share her statement proposing education over regulations. Ms. McCarty suggested a community education program to inform and honor the agricultural history of the town.
Ms. McCarty said she did extensive research, which was offered to the board before her family began raising 15 chickens, including a rooster, to give her children an understanding of where food comes from among the environmental benefits.
“Our food scraps go to our chickens, which reduces our waste; the pine shavings, and droppings from our chickens are used in our compost, which is used in our garden. We no longer need fertilizer,” Ms. McCarty said, hoping the board would encourage composting and not outline it as a problem.
Ms. McCarty also touched on food production within the community and her fears of limiting residents with smaller lots from the option of raising poultry with the regulations as drafted.
“We should be bringing food production into our community and not outsourcing it to other places where it is done in ways that are truly horrible for the environment, our health, and the animals. Especially at a time where so many are struggling and food supply changes are broken or rising in cost,” Ms. McCarty said.
“I am very concerned that others who have less space might be restricted to having access to an amazing source of food education and fun for their families. Please don’t make this another issue where those who can afford to have big lots get something that others can’t have,” Ms. McCarty said.
Jonathan Smith, who lives in a residential neighborhood, used his personal experience to support the need for poultry regulations.
Mr. Smith said his side lot is no longer usable after new neighbors built a chicken coop close to the property line, increasing their number of birds over time from around five to roughly 35, including roosters.
Despite supporting their desire to raise chickens, Mr. Smith said he is overwhelmed with the number of birds emitting noise and smell so close to his property.
“Looking at the regulations, I would ask you adamantly in zoned single residential zoning to not have roosters and limit the number of birds,” Mr. Smith said.
Beth Crocker spoke to address the noise pollution from roosters.
Ms. Crocker offered methods to dampen the sound of birds, especially in the morning hours by keeping them enclosed. Mr. Crocker also suggested a bird-friendly collar for certain breeds that muffles their noise.
“A rooster should be allowed, but there should be some regulations,” Ms. Crocker said.
Liz Martin spoke in favor of roosters, saying that they are not just for fertilization but also for protecting the flock from predators like hawks.
Many who spoke stressed education on raising poultry properly, food insecurities in the community, and how being good neighbors could rectify potential issues.
“There are many modalities to raising chickens, there are many ways to do it right, there are many ways to do it wrong. A lot of what we’ve heard tonight has been about education, communication, and neighbors being neighborly,” Jennifer Christian, who runs the educational nonprofit Farming Falmouth, said.
“This again becomes an educational piece, where if you are not managing those chickens correctly they’re going to stink, and if you are not being respectful of your neighbors and making sure your coop is well built enough to dampen a little bit of that sound in the morning, that’s a thing. But you have to be able to go to your neighbor and talk about this,” Ms. Christian said.
Agricultural Commission chairwoman Karen Schwalbe, who is also a 30-year chicken owner, asked the board to consider the rising cost of agricultural production nationwide, especially in Massachusetts.
“Eggs are the cheapest source of protein for food-insecure families. Many families have turned to production not just because they enjoy it but because it is a cost reduce for their family as well as a nutritional benefit,” Ms. Schwalbe said.
The board has been in communication with the agricultural commission on the proposed regulations, Ms. Schwalbe said.
After 24 individuals had the opportunity to speak, Ms. Molloy urged those with further comments to email them to the health department.
“I think we had some great discussion tonight. I think you’ve had some valuable input,” Ms. Molloy said, “I know everyone on the board here wanted to hear what you have to say. I think that’s very important,”
Ms. Molloy closed the meeting by mentioning more forums to come in the future.