CAIRO — Finding a balance between individual rights and proposed legislation to regulate domestic farm animals and poultry ruffled the feathers of some Cairo officials Monday.
A public hearing is set for Jan. 14, at the board’s next monthly meeting. If enacted, the law would promote proper agricultural uses and compel residents to contain farm animals on their property, Town Councilman Gary Warner said.
“We want people to have the farms, but we want people to contain [their animals],” Warner said.
Town Councilman Jason Watts told the board in October about residents of a development in South Cairo who complained to him about chickens roaming freely, dropping feces and chasing children, Warner said.
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s happening,” Warner said.
Cairo is a Right-to-Farm community, which protects qualifying farmers from nuisance lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations, according to the National Agricultural Law Center.
The proposed law asks residents to enclose animals and keep them under control on their property so they don’t trespass onto neighboring property, Cairo Town Supervisor Daniel Benoit said.
“The question now is going to be how many complaints are we going to get from people complaining about other people’s animals trespassing on their property?” Benoit said.
Watts suggested residents build a six-foot fence to keep animals from running loose. “As a farmer, you have to have to your best interest into keeping your animals in the cages,” he said. “It does happen that your animals will get out of the fences.”
Homeowners should be able to do as they wish with their land, but need to control animals from getting loose, Watts said.
“You can’t just open a door and say, ‘Go ahead chickens, have fun at everybody else’s, they’re paying taxes for you,’” Watts said. “What are their neighbors paying taxes for? Especially in a development, they’re paying land taxes to not have their bulbs removed, to not have their mulch removed.”
When complaints are made, lawmakers have to do something about it, Watts said.
“I don’t care if it’s four or 400 [chickens], there’s no rules that say that you can’t just let them go — even for traffic, they’re out in the middle of the road,” he said. “I think we should do something for the people that own land.”
As it stands, residents whose lawns are damaged by chickens or other animals can sue their neighbor for compensation, Benoit said.
“It might not be the perfect remedy for it, but it is an existing remedy we have right now without a town law,” he said.
Chickens must be enclosed when neighbors make complaints about poultry roaming freely, Benoit said.
“That’s just being a good, responsible neighbor, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
Residents own chickens for their own personal use are popular because of the eggs they produce, Benoit said.
“We’re hooked on chickens, which is fine,” he said.
Little effort is required to keep chickens in an enclosure and some residents like having chickens on their lawns because they eat insect pests, Watts said.
But the law is also about protecting the rights of residents, he added.
“When it goes over the line and does something to somebody else’s personal property, I don’t think it should be allowed,” Watts said. “If you want them on your property it’s pretty much a netting you put around.”
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