Horses and other hooved animals: Ordinance on small lot husbandry heads to town meeting

Rejecting a weight limit to distinguish between big horses and little potbellied pigs, the selectmen have sent a draft “hooved animal” ordinance on to judgment by voters.

The proposed ordinance is scheduled to come before voters at a town meeting Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 in town hall.

“The weight’s irrelevant,” said one of about 20 people who attended a public hearing on it Wednesday, Nov. 8. “You’re still going to smell it. Manure is manure.”

The proposed ordinance — really an amendment enlarging the reach of existing ordinances — addresses the “keeping of livestock on small lots in high-density residential areas.” It sets rules for many practical aspects of having animals like horses — fencing, manure storage, sanitation, run-in sheds.

The central restriction is to make it “unlawful for any person to keep livestock on a residential lot which is less than a half-acre in size,” with an added stipulation that there be “an additional half acre, over the first half acre, for each additional hooved animal.”

The ordinance also dictates that manure storage structures must be least 25 feet from any property line.

It defines the “livestock” that it regulates as “any hooved animal such as cattle, bison, swine, goats, sheep, llamas, camels, horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and other hooved animals.”

Where kids can ride

Dr. Jeffrey Hubsher, a veterinarian with a small farm in Ridgebury, had suggested to the selectmen that the ordinance contain a provision specifying that it apply only to “hooved animals” of 500 pounds or more.

He didn’t see why rules designed to handle problems associated with horses should make life difficult for people with ponies, sheep, goats, or small pet pigs.

“People like having ponies, where their kids can ride. It’s a dream for some people,” Hubsher said.

“Goats are small, and sheep are small, and don’t have the same impact,” he added.

“I think in this town we’ve had very little problem with sheep, goats and pigs,” Hubsher said. “To lump them together with horses is not reasonable.”

‘Going rogue’

The draft ordinance was the result of months of work by a committee that included horse owners and neighbors of the Manor Road property where the keeping of three horses on a relatively small lot caused an uproar.

Tom Pesce, a leader of the neighborhood opposition to the Manor Road horses, said the selectmen shouldn’t drop the ordinance just because the horses that had caused problems there had been relocated.

“What this would do is protect against somebody going rogue tomorrow,” he said.

“I think it’s sad it’s come this,” said Robin Augustadt if South Olmstead Lane. “You’ve named a building after a man who kept a pony in his back yard — Mr. Venus, with little Maggie.”

“This is a very, very fair proposal,” said P.J. Campbell of Peaceable Street. “It’s not to the advantage of any hooved animal to live on a piece of property that’s smaller than this.”

Too many rules?

The selectmen’s vote to send the proposal along was 4-to-1, with Selectwoman Barbara Manners in dissent.

“I just have a real sadness in me at the thought that we need all these regulations,” said Manners. “I’ve had eight dogs on my property — on an acre and a half. If I lived in Redding, I couldn’t have eight dogs.”

She said the ordinance seemed like over-regulation.

“I don’t want to live in a town that has so many restrictions,” Manners said.

Selectman Bob Hebert said it was time to put the proposal before voters.

“We’ve had a lot of input here — neighbors, experts, both sides of the issue,” Hebert said.

“I don’t have a horse in this race. I think it’s reasonable. I think it’s equitable. I think it’s fair. And I’d like to move forward.”

“It still has to go to a town meeting,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark. “It still has to go up or down on a vote.”