By Katy Rogers
The Everett Board of Health invited residents to an open meeting for input regarding an up to date chicken coop ordinance.
Currently, chickens are already permitted in the city, but Everett’s outdated ordinance is vague and in need of being updated as the city has grown and become more congested with less open space and an increased population.
The proposed ordinance presented by the Board of Health would allow residents to keep up to four chickens per household for the sole purpose of eggs laying. Residents would be required to apply for a $50 permit, and if an abutter opposes, they would not be permitted to maintain a chicken coop.
Coops would be subject to inspections to maintain the permits.
The initiative by the Board came as several residents involved in the Community farming trend wanted to expand their healthy eating practicing to raising chickens for egg harvesting.
First to address her concerns was Lillian Gorham, who referred to health matters relating to chickens being in the city. Gorham raised questions regarding the proximity of a chicken coop to a neighbor’s property, worrying that flies, rodents, and chicken droppings too close to her home could devalue her property and ruin the enjoyment she gets from her backyard.
“Chicken droppings attract flies, and flies have diseases,” she said. “Flies can fit through chicken wire, and I don’t want them flying around my yard. Rodents would be another whole problem. Rodents dig. They’re going to dig under the fences. Chicken manure [also] has quite the odor.”
Gorham described going to Richardson’s Farm in Middleton where a chicken coop is displayed, and expressing a similar setup right beside her home would be unpleasant, as Everett is a different type of community.
“We live in close quarters. We live in the city; we don’t live in the country,” Gotham said.
To ease her concerns, Board of Health Director Elaine Silva clarified that chickens are already permitted in the city, and the new ordinance would only provide clarity to the existing law.
The second resident to speak was Ron Ramsdell, who has maintained a chicken coop on his property with six hens for the past six years.
Ramsdell was able to provide insight to the situation, and addressed his concerns regarding the specific details of the proposed ordinance. Ramsdell admitted, if he had asked his neighbors when he had just moved in if he could maintain a chicken coop, they likely would have opposed, but now his neighbors embrace it.
In regards to the sanitation concerns, Ramsdell assured a healthy chicken coop will not have an odor and should not attract rodents.
“If you’re keeping it clean and dry, you will not have a problem. You will smell pine shavings,” he said. “Chicken poop attracts flies. However it cannot breed flies. Normally it’s so bone dry, larvae cannot live in it.”
Ramsdell also said chickens are not as noisy as the reputation they may have, and specified he agrees the City should not allow their rooster counterparts, which are very loud and disruptive. He said the chickens are primarily only noisy if they are startled or laying an egg. He described other city noises, such as barking dogs, low airplanes, and even wild birds, as being much more noticeable.
Ramsdell’s primary concern was the four chicken minimum, which he described as ridiculous, feeling it would be a poor choice on behalf of the City of Everett.
“There should not be sole chickens out there,” he said, describing the animals as very social creatures.
He went on to detail a natural pecking order, which isn’t ideal for strictly four chickens. He described six as an ideal number, which would keep the chickens happy, healthy, and calm. Ramsdell furthered that maintaining less than four chickens would be irresponsible.
According to Ramsdell, one chicken provides approximately 250 eggs per year, but factors such as their temperament and care can impact this number. He described that children in his neighborhood enjoy coming to observe the chickens, and neighbors enjoy getting fresh eggs. Ramsdell welcomed residents and members of the Board of Health to come see his coop for a firsthand look.
Though Ramsdell strongly urged the City to consider allowing six chickens for the safety and well being of the animals, he suggested at the very least, those with six chickens currently be grandfathered in as not to disrupt their coops.
Kathleen O’Brien, of the Community Growers, also spoke in favor of chickens, emphasizing the importance of having six chickens to maintain the pecking order.
“If they’re happy, safe, and healthy, there’s no problem,” she explained, and expressed four chickens would fight among each other, and therefore it would not be an ideal environment.
She explained providing eggs to neighbors is a nice gesture, and her neighbors are drawn to the chickens, reiterating Ramsdell’s points.
Following those in favor, Stephen Pinto, an Everett resident, expressed his concerns about odors, rodents, and salmonella.
“Everett was different 40 or 50 years ago.” he described, referring to the out of date ordinance currently in place.
Though he cited that Ramsdell and O’Brien appeared to be responsible and well-informed chicken owners, he was not confident all Everett residents would be as diligent.
“Unfortunately people are just not responsible,” he said.
The Board of Health has recently received complaints about chickens wandering the streets, which is what triggered the ordinance to be reassessed in the first place. They expressed they have never had any issues of salmonella from backyard chickens in the community, and most cases of the contaminant have been a result of undercooked food.
Those who expressed their skepticism were open to visiting Ramsdell’s coop setup and viewing photos and videos on his phone.
The meeting was adjourned and the Board of Health appreciated the recommendations of the community, which they will consider all views prior to presenting the board its recommendation to the City Council.