Westborough chicken owners applaud their benefits in wake of proposed bylaw


By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

Westborough town iconWestborough – The benefits of chickens and poultry received high praise from residents during a public hearing with Westborough Board of Selectmen on March 4.

The proposed bylaw (which can be found here: https://www.town.westborough.ma.us/sites/g/files/vyhlif5176/f/news/poultry_bylaw.pdf) seeks to place regulations on numbers, sheltering and location of chickens and other poultry and is expected to be included on the May 15 Annual Town Meeting warrant.

First, the public was invited to weigh in on the wording and intent of the bylaw. Selectmen said they would take the input and consider it while composing the final draft. The board will vote on the matter at its next regular meeting.

Animal Control Officer/Inspector Melinda MacKendrick talked about Westborough’s tradition of farms and chicken ownership, noting that people have a renewed interest in having their own food sources.

She said there are more than 900 chickens in town. The majority of owners have a reasonable number and take care of them sufficiently. However, MacKendrick has responded to complaints where the numbers are excessive. People have also called with concerns about loud roosters.

The bylaw is an attempt to “provide guidance for the future and reflect those concerns,” she said.

Mary Johnston, who said she has responsibly owned chickens for a decade, noted that bylaws should honor Westborough’s rural roots, make sense and not be overly restrictive.

She objected to requiring the poultry to be “fenced in,” and said that quails, ducks and turkeys should be allowed to cohabitate in the same structures rather than be divided by species.

She also said that residents should be responsible for keeping their chickens on their property and pointed out benefits like natural fertilizer, food sources and learning tools.

Johnston added, “we’re passionate about our feathered friends.”

Steven Bachelor, who said he started raising chickens right before the pandemic lockdown, called them “an amazing addition to the family.”

He said that chickens have a positive impact on public health and property values and help return neighborhoods to their agricultural roots and feel.

He said the chickens have prompted “transgenerational conversations,” with neighbors and brought them closer together. Bachelor added, “Rather than negative impacts, keeping chickens helps promote a rich community with strong, robust property values and increased sustainability.”

Emily Lamarche said that one of the reasons she bought her property was because it used to be a cattle farm and she hopes to bring farming back to it.

She said that she believes children should have the opportunity to come back to the land, to learn what the process is “to eat an egg from start to finish,” to use compost in the garden, and develop a hands-on approach to connect with food.

“I think that kind of living is something the whole world could benefit from,” Lamarche said.

Selectman Sean Keogh said that it appeared from those and other speakers that residents are looking for a level of fairness, whether they own chickens or not.

Selectman Ian Johnson said that he was the grandson of chicken farmers and he appreciated the sentiment that poultry is bringing neighbors and families closer together. “We want a bylaw that works for everybody,” he said.

MacKendrick noted that she would be in favor of eliminating the whole first paragraph under section 4.

Town Manager Kristi Williams said all the comments and written input would be summarized and voted on by selectmen Tuesday, March 9.







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