WHITMAN – The backyard chickens – or, more specifically, the roosters – came home to roost at Whitman Town Meeting, Monday, May 2 when voters defeated a citizen’s petition that would have sent the cockrels packing in the interest of peace and quiet.
The last article of the night – Article 50 – proposed that “there shall be no raising or ownership of roosters in the town of Whitman,” complaining that the birds’ “loudly crowing throughout the day, from early morning to evening,” creates a disturbance of the peace. It proposed that the town would be responsible for removal of the birds.
“I’m proposing this bylaw because I live next to a rooster – a couple of them – and this has been [going on] for the last six months,” petitioner George Mager said. “If you try to get rid of the rooster, which is a very obnoxious noise that’s planted right next to your property, there’s no way to escape from it.”
He said the birds start in at 4 a.m., and the town has no way of stopping it. Wild birds also sing loudly at about the same hour.
But the rooster’s crowing was found to be more objectionable and he approached town officials to ask if they could or would do anything to control what poultry would be permissible in town.
The lack of a bylaw was cited as the reason the town couldn’t rectify the rooster ruckus.
Another resident, who lives down the street from a rooster owner, said she never hears the crowing, suggesting the town-wide ban proposal was seeking a remedy for the problem with one particular bird.
“What if we did the same thing with dogs or cats?” she asked. “Is there another solution?”
Chuck Slavin of Commercial Street, asked what the follow-up would be, for example, would the bird(s) be dealt with humanely.
“Unfortunately, this will fall on my department,” said Health Board Chair Danielle Clancy. “We will do whatever you vote, that is our task. … I will tell you people have roosters as pets and people also have roosters to protect their chickens.”
Roosters’ crowing alerts owners to the presence of snakes, coyotes and other predators.
Clancy said her problem with the proposed bylaw came down to how it was written. Residents are already required to obtain a permit from the Board of Health to keep poultry, which does annual inspections of backyard coops. If health officials hear about non-permitted coops, she said it is dealt with.
“If you don’t have a permit, you better be calling us in the next week or so, because your neighbors will be calling us,” she said.
She said she also has a problem with putting the responsibility of rogue rooster wrangling on the Board of Health, proposing instead that the onus should be on the owner to place problem poultry in a shelter.
“We are not equipped for that and the Board of Health doesn’t have the budget for that,” Clancy said.
Animal Control Officer Laura Howe said she is Mager’s School Street neighbor and charged he has wanted her dogs removed for 28 years.
“My lawyer has spent 28 years giving Mr. Mager nice messages because I believe in Jesus, and I happen to believe in my town,” she said adding that she wished she could have brought the rooster to Town Meeting. “But there happens to be bird flu going around, and it would be against the law,” she said.
The state has also prohibited animal control officers from removing any birds until after July, when they make another decision, Howe said, adding that like the Board of Health, she does not have the facilities nor the budget to be responsible for rooster removal or to euthanize them, if necessary.
Plymouth County Agricultural Extension Agent Meg Riley of Belmont Street also urged a no vote on the article. She said there were no parameters written into the proposed bylaw and also referred to the “pretty epic outbreak of the avian influenza” which prevents moving the birds and has resulted in high prices for chicken meat and eggs.
To avoid having to kill birds at this time, they cannot be moved.
“If there was still a push for this, and I definitely understand the point of the gentleman – some people have really loud roosters, they can be really annoying – but … even in our suburban community, it would be in our best interests to establish an agricultural commission that could work through some of these issues on a case by case basis,” Riley said.
Howe indicated the bird in question was something of a trans chicken, which, it turns out is possible.
“I did not go out and try to get a rooster,” she said. “He showed up as a girl, and turned into a boy very late after my 12-year-old daughter fell in love with him.”
She dared anyone to remove the bird from her property.
“My animal, rooster or not, comes in at 6 a.m. every night and goes out at 7:30-8:00 every morning, because he goes for coffee and to the barn with me.”
According to Live Science, “certain medical conditions—such as an ovarian cyst, tumor or diseased adrenal gland—can cause a chicken’s left ovary to regress. In the absence of a functional left ovary, the dormant right sex organ may begin to grow, according to Mike Hulet, an associate professor at Penn State University’s department of poultry science.
“If the activated right gonad is an ovotestis or testes, it will begin secreting androgens,” Hulet told Life’s Little Mysteries. Androgens are the class of hormones that are largely responsible for male characteristics and are normally secreted by the testes. “The production of androgen would cause the hen to undergo behavioral changes and make it act more like a rooster.”
Then there was the noise accusation.
Howe said rooster crows reach 90 decibels, while dog barks can reach 100 and lawnmowers reach 108 decibels.
“I have roosters in my neighborhood,” Select Board member Dan Salvucci said. “They don’t bother me.”
He said the bylaw only opens the possibility that neighbors could report each other for mowing the lawn after 7:30 p.m., or that dogs could be singled out for barking.
“Let’s not have neighbor against neighbor,” he said. “Let’s just work it out.”