The sky appears be falling in Cranston over one man’s fraught relationship with his neighbor and his neighbor’s rooster and it seems the problem is onerous enough to require legislation. …
To the Editor;
The sky appears be falling in Cranston over one man’s fraught relationship with his neighbor and his neighbor’s rooster and it seems the problem is onerous enough to require legislation. A recently submitted ordinance banning roosters is currently under consideration by the City’s Ordinance Committee.
Equating a rooster’s crow to a jet engine, the sponsoring council member claims that hearing loss is a likely outcome of living next to the male of Gallus gallus domesticus. For the sake of transparency and science, I feel compelled to say that I live in very close proximity to a baker’s dozen of these showy, loud males and my hearing is just fine. But I also don’t go around strapping my head to their feathery gullets-or, for that matter, to the open mouth of a jet engine at nearby TF Green Airport.
Hyperbole and humor aside, this proposed ordinance is alarming on multiple fronts, although perhaps most glaringly in its limited origin story. I never like to see legislation that results from a single (or small-in-numbers) complaint. Democracy works when we focus on the common good; when we look to decisions that take care of the many; not the few. In the collective hangover that is January 6th 2021, this might be hard to remember but ultimately, the success of our grand experiment relies on all the boats rising, not just one; on equal treatment under the law, and so on. You know, the stuff we used to learn in civics class.
Robert Frost once provided us with the now overused axiom, “Good fences make good neighbors.” He was on to something but it isn’t always that simple. While many examples of great friendships between neighbors exist, there are also a legend number of historic, over-thehedge quarrels, lawsuits over property lines and even (my personal favorite) long-held grudges that result in the construction of ‘spite houses.’ In short, people choose how to get along-or not-with those with whom they share a tax map border. The question is, should their personal success or failure to get along rise to the level of motivating a city’s ordinances? And if it does rise to such a level, how do we protect those who are not in the fray, but will be harmed by the outcome?
As a long-time advocate for our local food system, I support backyard chickens and small farm rights. I am also a strong believer in common sense. I’ve combined those things in my approach when teaching Rhode Islanders how to safely raise and keep chickens at home. In those classes, when a student’s community lacks a local ordinance to guide them, I recommend that they steer clear of roosters. Roosters are not going to make you deaf, but if you live in an urban, non-ag environment with minimal distance between you and your neighbors, it is not a thoughtful choice (just like it’s not thoughtful-or humane-to leave your dog on your porch to bark all day). In the absence of local guidance, common sense needs to step in and guide you.
For most chicken keepers I know, it does.
In Cranston, a famously diverse municipality that includes heavily urban, small city lot neighborhoods as well as large-lot housing plats plopped down on and next to farmland, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to this kind of legislation. Any kind of city-wide policy, let
alone this one, requires incredible finesse to ensure that everyone is protected-the city dweller as much as the country dweller, the backyard keeper as much as the small farmer. This proposed ordinance fails to find the sweet spot it must.
And yes, before you ask, roosters DO have a place on small and large farms alike. Beyond the obvious: chickens lay eggs no matter what, but without a rooster, those eggs won’t be fertilized and you won’t get more chickens. Roosters guard flocks from predators, alerting the flock to danger and, when necessary, will sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Those who raise meat birds for your consumption raise hens and roosters-there is no choosing on that, it’s the luck of the egg that is hatched for that purpose. In short, if you want eggs and chicken for your table, you need roosters. Period.
Beyond the slippery slope of legislating-for-one, this ban runs afoul (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of the rights of small farms (both established and aspiring) to do what they do-never mind what we rely on them to do which is, simply put, to feed us. The US Egg and Poultry
Association places the total economic activity of the Rhode Island poultry industry (chicken and egg production together) at 437.86 million dollars. That ain’t chicken feed.
City-wide problems, even those that plague a particular neighborhood may well rise to the level of law making but it is hard to imagine that this one, which other councilmembers have not reported as being a topic of egregious constituent complaints, rises to such a standard.
And, by rushing to ‘fix’ a single man’s problem, what doors will be opened for the next disgruntled resident who does not, for example, like how his neighbor plants his garden. If you think this is disingenuous, look up the stories on cities that have banned food growing in urban front yards.
I want to trust that the sponsor of this ordinance believes she supported amended language around the ‘Right to Farm” Act in order to protect Cranston’s small farm assets. But, since aspiring farms may not yet have reached the state’s financial threshold for protection under the rule, this ordinance as currently written will only serve to damage Cranston’s small farm community, impacting our local economy and the increasingly critical local food network on which we all rely. I don’t think anyone wants that, especially if it is all because someone’s personal fence needs mending.
“Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.”
Mending Wall (RobertFrost)
Hurricane Hill Farm
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