West Tisbury hens aren't a-laying, while town ponders
West Tisbury officials have not yet issued formal responses to the complaints about neighbors' noisy roosters and roaming hens. The complaints, although not the birds themselves, created quite a ruckus at last week's planning board meeting. Although no official action has been taken yet, the outlines of a municipal decision are shaping up.
Meanwhile, at the backyard level, the hens aren't laying and the guinea fowl are procreating.
Zoning officer Ernie Mendenhall told the selectmen on July 19, after the rousing planning board meeting, "The only thing I can enforce is that they should be penned," referring to the offending chickens at a home on Millstone Lane in Lambert's Cove. Even though the town is all zoned rural, it has an animal control regulation that requires livestock and domestic animals to be restricted to the owner's property.
Mr. Mendenhall said the town has a noise ordinance, but it does not specify animal noise as an offense. Health agent John Powers, who also received the complaint because he is in charge of enforcing state environmental regulations that include noise, also said this week he has not taken any action on that aspect of the complaint. He said he has discussed the issue with the town counsel.
Mr. Mendenhall said he wanted to have the town counsel review his letter before he sends it, which the selectmen gave him permission to do. He was on vacation this week, so the letter has not been sent.
Dyan Redick, whose birds inspired the complaint from neighbors Bob and Kathy Harris, said she had not heard anything yet about the town's decision on the matter. She said there is no reason to consider any legal action until she gets the decision from Mr. Mendenhall.
"I have conferred with my attorney," she said. "We're in the position of waiting for the town to see if it is going to enact any zoning changes."
However, Ms. Redick has taken action on her own to control the birds since the planning board meeting, where the Harrises, their attorney, and several other neighbors complained about the roosters "screaming and shrieking repeatedly and loudly" and the guinea hens roaming the neighborhood.
Ms. Redick said Monday she removed two of her roosters and kept an eight-year-old bird in a coop and small holding pen along with the chickens and guinea hens.
"Healthwise, it's not good for the birds," she said, noting none of the hens have laid eggs in a week, and the guinea hens are not getting the protein they need while they are penned up.
Despite the restricted living conditions, Ms. Redick said 10 guinea hens hatched under the chickens in the coop. She said she doesn't know what she'll do with them.
Ms. Redick added that most of her neighbors love the birds. When she and her fiancé, Kurt Freund, moved to the Vineyard more than a year ago they were told by town officials and others that having the birds on their property would not be a problem. "It's now a West Tisbury issue," she said. "We're kind of waiting to see which way it's going to go."
Long-time Island farmer Jim Athearn, owner of Morning Glory Farm and a member of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, said he hasn't had to deal with the livestock issue on his farm. Because of its size, Edgartown's requirements on penning livestock on property less than five acres don't apply to him.
However, Mr. Athearn said he does hear roosters from time to time in his neighborhood. "I'm pleased to hear it," he said. "It's a piece of country character." He said a rooster ought to be able to crow a reasonable amount of time, but added that some roosters do crow all the time.
After a rooster episode last year in Tisbury, where neighbors complained about a girl's pet rooster, Mr. Athearn said the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society wrote a letter to town officials arguing that there should be no restraints on backyard agriculture, which the letter called a fundamental part of the Island culture. But, he added, "It's also important to respect your neighbors," and not allow guinea hens to roam.