It was a case of cock-a-doodle-don’t at a Stowe Select Board meeting Monday night.
A complaint about a crowing rooster on Maple Street ruffled feathers, but it also shone a spotlight on a larger issue — does farming still have a place within Stowe village, or has the tightly populated area outgrown its agricultural roots?
Karen Akins, who lives on Maple Street, asked the select board Tuesday night to consider adopting a rooster ban, because the rooster next door, owned by Jennifer Leighton, is keeping her awake.
“My neighbor has a rooster practically outside my bedroom and I am being awakened at 4:30 each morning,” Akins told Stowe Town Manager Charles Safford.
“It doesn’t just start at daybreak. It starts at 3 or 4 in the morning and then it continues, so it’s not as if it’s a matter of waking up early. It’s interrupting our sleep,” Akins said. “The houses there are very close together. … That’s creating an issue.”
Akins said there’s no legal recourse for her now, since Stowe has no noise ordinance beyond measures against barking dogs in the animal bylaws that allow police to warn and ticket dog owners.
Roosters or other livestock aren’t mentioned, Safford confirmed.
Akins wants “something that would be attacking the actual problem, mitigating the noise impact” of roosters, rather than ruling out farming on Maple Street entirely. She says she doesn’t mind the flock of sheep kept at the same house by the owner’s brother.
Akins says she’s tried speaking with Leighton about the roosters’ noise, and two have been relocated, “but one always seems to come back.”
Leighton, who introduced herself as “mother of the roosters,” says she needs the rooster to protect her hens from predators, and she needs to be able to produce her own eggs.
“I have the right to farm,” she said. “They’re not obnoxious. Nobody else is complaining.”
Rebecca Chase has owned chickens in Stowe village for several years, and attended the meeting because she wants to ensure she and other animal enthusiasts are allowed to continue owning animals at home.
Chase says roosters aren’t necessary for egg production.
“Chickens can produce food without requiring a male to inseminate them,” Chase said. “They just automatically start shedding an ovum every 24 hours until the end of their eggs,” and continue to lay with or without the presence of a rooster.
While roosters do provide excellent protection against predators, if there’s no resident rooster, some hens can undergo what Chase called “spontaneous sex change,” taking on external characteristics of roosters and becoming the flock’s protectors.
Chase said she had a rooster at one time that was bothering her neighbors, so she brought it inside immediately, and found it a new home.
“I dealt with it rapidly and quickly,” she said, and she sees no reason Leighton shouldn’t be able to do the same without a village-wide ban in effect.
Chase says she sees both sides of the issue.
“I do think farming has a place, but I think you have to take your neighbors into consideration,” Chase said. “It’s just an awareness. … If you choose to stay in town, then you choose to be around people.”
Select board chair Billy Adams opposed a rooster ban.
“I have a little bit of a problem with it, given the nature of our community and the historic nature of Stowe in particular,” he said. “I’d just be concerned about where to stop.”
“Once you ban something, it’s a slippery slope,” Chase said.
Akins, frustrated, told the select board she needed help.
“I’ve been extremely open-minded for goats and sheep and chickens and everything to be right there, next door to me. I support the heritage and what the neighborhood is, but with roosters, what function do they serve? They serve, apparently, to keep the hens happy. So if we’re weighing the hens’ happiness with my ability to function in life because I get sleep in my own bedroom, I really think that you’ve got to look at the livability of the neighborhood and the expectation that, if a person buys a home, that they’re going to be able to sleep there,” Akins said.
“I think you should look at it as the hens’ happiness versus the human beings’ happiness,” Akins said.
Select board member Lisa Hagerty seemed to agree with Akins.
“To me, this particular thing is no different than a barking dog,” she said.
Jason Wells, who keeps the flock of sheep at the Maple Street house, said he thought the issue should be worked out between the two women.
“Long-term damage to our heritage here in Vermont” isn’t the way to handle it, Wells said.
The board decided to table the discussion indefinitely, with the agreement that Leighton and Akins will try to work it out.
Brownsville forest will join state land
The Stowe Select Board agreed Monday to allow the Stowe Land Trust to hand ownership of a 750-acre forest in Brownsville to the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, once the land trust buys it in July.
It will become part of the C.C. Putnam State Forest.
A conservation easement on the property will prohibit development, said Kristen Sharpless, executive director of the Stowe Land Trust, which will hold the easement.
Hunting, fishing, hiking, trapping and non-mechanized recreation will be allowed on the land, Sharpless said.
Whether horseback riding will be allowed is being discussed, as is whether mountain biking trails will be maintained, and if so, by whom.
McCall Pasture and Brownsville roads are both Class 4 roads that allow access to the land, and Adams wanted to ensure municipal access is maintained.
Sharpless said the easement will likely allow construction of up to two more parking lots nearby for people who want to use the area for recreation.
The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation will create a 10-year management plan for the property.
Once the property is transferred to the state, it will come off the town’s tax rolls, but the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation will pay the same amount in lieu of taxes.
That amount is still being assessed, Sharpless said.
Stowe Land Trust needs to raise $750,000 by July 31 to buy the property.
Other board business
Also Tuesday, the select board:
• Approved purchase of 10 yellow signs reminding cyclists to warn pedestrians before they pass them on the Stowe Recreation Path. The signs will cost $400 and be placed on the same posts as existing signs. The board also wants to encourage recreation-related business owners to remind customers to warn before passing.
• Warned a public hearing for June 10 to discuss reclassifying parts of Cottonbrook Road from a Class 3 road to a Class 4 road, and parts of Sanborn and Old County roads as legal trails.
• Warned a public hearing June 10 to eliminate a quarter-mile-long passing zone on Stagecoach Road as requested by Ryan and Courtney Percy, who live there. They say passing cars make it dangerous for their daughter to wait for the school bus, and for Ryan and Paul Percy to tend to their cows.
Disclaimer: Reporter Caleigh Cross is the domestic partner of Newton Wells, who owns the house at 311 Maple St.