October 24, 2012 - If Old MacDonald wished to have a farm with a cluck-cluck here and a moo-moo there in Oxford Township, he'd better have enough acreage and the proper zoning to do so.
However, township officials recently voted 4-2 to direct the planning commission to investigate the possibility of expanding where farm animals are permitted to be kept to all parcels 2.5 acres or larger, regardless of zoning.
Right now, farm animals – which include cattle (both beef and dairy), swine, sheep, lambs, horses, turkeys and chickens – may only be kept on lots 2.5 acres or larger in areas zoned agricultural or suburban farms.
The minimum lot size for agricultural zoning is 20 acres, while the minimum lot sizes for the three classifications of suburban farms are 2.5 acres, 5 acres and 10 acres.
But township resident Ron Estrada wants to change that.
He recently approached the board about amending the zoning ordinance to lower the minimum-acreage requirement necessary to keep farm animals and broaden the zoning where they're allowed.
To Estrada, who lives on a 1.6-acre residentially-zoned lot on Amy Ct. – south of Seymour Lake Rd. and west of S. Coats Rd. – the ability to raise smaller livestock, such as chickens and goats, for milk, eggs and meat promotes self-sufficiency and sustainability.
"To me, the more each individual resident can do to provide his or her own food, energy and water, the more sustainable we are as a community," he said.
Estrada noted that nationally, "self-sufficiency has become the goal of millions" as many people are choosing a "return to the homestead lifestyle," which entails making choices that are frugal, healthy, sustainable, self-reliant and good for the wider community. Both Ferndale and Auburn Hills enacted ordinances allowing the keeping of poultry, according to Estrada.
Having livestock also increases each resident's level of emergency preparedness. "Each residents has an obligation to prepare for any possible disruption to his or her lifestyle," said Estrada, noting that "disruption" could include job loss, "economic turmoil" and disasters, both natural and man-made.
"Things like gardens (and) small livestock can carry someone through for a long time under such conditions."
Raising livestock is good for folks who wish to ensure that the food they and their families eat is all natural. Many of the foods purchased at grocery stores today contain additives or have been "genetically modified" which "has caused a great deal of concern for those of us who believe that natural foods are better," Estrada explained.
"While we can't control all the food we use, we can certainly control as much as our small plots of land will sustain."
Raising livestock also gives kids important educational opportunities such as participating in 4-H Club activities. "Most children have no idea where their food comes from," Estrada said.
Township officials were receptive to the idea of possibly expanding the zoning districts in which farm animals are allowed, but they didn't like the notion of reducing the minimum 2.5-acre requirement.
"I don't think it's a good idea that any lot (or) every resident should be able to have chickens and goats," said Trustee Sue Bellairs, noting there are already problems with people maintaining their dogs and cats. She can't imagine someone with a 50-foot lot now having livestock.
Bellairs said "in a perfect world," everyone would clean up their animals' mess and control their odor. "But we don't live in a perfect world," she noted.
Treasurer Joe Ferrari recalled the smell of chicken coops and pig pens he endured growing up on a farm, especially during the summer months. "We'd get a nice whiff in the bedrooms at night and we had 20 acres," he said. Given that, Ferrari indicated he couldn't imagine having 10 chickens on a 75-foot lot.
Estrada indicated the township could limit the number of chickens allowed. He said that six is a "pretty reasonable" number to take care of and "keep the smell down."
Planning Commissioner Jack Curtis noted that people who purchased lots in developments like Waterstone didn't anticipate there could be farm animals living next door. He added that roosters should not be allowed due to crowing noise.
Estrada agreed that roosters could be prohibited, as they are in other communities with tightly-packed subdivisions. He explained that "hens are silent" as they just lay eggs and basically keep to themselves.
Supervisor Bill Dunn expressed his concern that allowing farm animals on smaller lots could give feuding neighbors "another tool" in their "Hatfield and McCoy" disputes.
If decreasing the minimum lot size was going to be considered, Dunn didn't like the idea of using the broad term farm animals as opposed to something specific like poultry. "I don't want to see horses on 1-acre lots," he said.
Although Estrada was glad the township was willing to look into expanding the zoning where farm animals are permitted, he felt the minimum acreage requirement also needs to be addressed.
"It's the rest of us who cannot afford 2.5 acres who have the problem," he said. "Locking it (in) at 2.5 acres is not solving anything."
"The board's not real crazy about (allowing farm animals on) anything under 2.5 acres," Ferrari said.
Dunn noted his biggest concern was ordinance enforcement should a problem arise from the presence of livestock. "I can't walk on your property," he said. "I need a court order to go on your property."
That goes for the township's ordinance enforcement officer as well.
If there were to be a change to the existing language concerning farm animals, Dunn insisted there be some way, like an easement, for either him or the ordinance officer to be able to enter a property and remedy the situation.
Curtis noted the township could require licensing or charge some type of fee to help with ordinance enforcement.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.