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Fowl Language In Cumberland

CUMBERLAND – In response to growing complaints being received by the County's animal control officer concerning chickens coming onto other people's properties and creating damage, the Board of Supervisors in Cumberland decided to take a look at its ordinance and set a public hearing for later this month.

The Board took action in November and proposed an amendment that would add 'fowl' to the list of animals that must be fenced in to Cumberland's County Code and make it a Class 4 Misdemeanor if owners lose control of their fowl and damage results.

“He is getting repeated, and numerous, and growing, complaints with chickens and roosters heading off to other neighbor's properties and deciding to roost and do all sorts of damage to decks and the like,” explained County Attorney Howard Estes to the Supervisors about the growing problem. “He's asked us to report to you all for consideration a change to the County's ordinances in two items.”

The first would be to amend the ordinance to allow “fowl” to be listed as one of the animals that must be fenced and kept on property and the second would be to make it a Class 4 Misdemeanor if fowl run outside of their confined areas, according to Estes.

“Some jurisdictions look at this only in roadways and if you have a fence you are suppose to maintain the fence,” offered Estes as something for the Supervisors to think about, “and your animals are suppose to be kept in the fence and they have a fence law but they only make criminal penalties for it if the animals are going onto public roadways. Others have looked at this and said 'your property' but they actually define it even further and say that your chickens have to be a certain distance away from property lines and they are much more restrictive. Other jurisdictions keep the property lines but talk generally about livestock so whether it's a cow, horse, or chicken – it's 'livestock'…”

Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, noted that fencing disputes have “plagued the Commonwealth” for many years.

“It's gone to life and death situations in some cases over arguments over fences,” he said. “My understanding, however, is that by law Virginia is a fence-out state. Locally, jurisdictions can opt one way or the other-fence-in or fence-out-if they don't, they are fence-out. Fence-out means it is your responsibility to keep animals off of your property, not for the owner of the animals to keep them on their property as strange as that may sound…I'm just throwing another question on the table that needs to be explored. Is Cumberland County a fence-in or fence-out? And there are code requirements at the state level with regards to that.”

According to Estes, Cumberland currently has adopted a no-fence law and it is different than most jurisdictions because it doesn't just reference “livestock.”

Chickens are treated differently, he said.

According to the ordinance, Estes said, the boundary line of any lot, tract of land, or stream in the county is a lawful fence to any mule, cattle, hog, sheep, or goats.

“Very different from most jurisdictions which just say 'livestock,'” noted Estes about Cumberland's Code. “That was one of the requests from Mr. Sullivan was to add fowl to that list of livestock.”

Chairman Van Petty, District Three, noted that at some point a homeowner has the right to protect his or her property from these intruders.

“There was a decision made by a prior Board that chickens were not going to be included and chickens are included as 'livestock,'” offered Estes during the discussion.

Once the boundary line is the fence line, it is then a matter of what happens when the chickens go onto someone else's property, offered Ested.

Then the process must go an additional step and the ordinance must give Cumberland's animal control officer the ability to fine or “take somebody with criminal charge,” Estes added about drafting language that would benefit residents who are battling this problem.

“I spoke to Mr. Sullivan about this problem…,” said Petty. “It's really becoming a problem for him because he said he doesn't have any enforcement without something from the County Code. There is no enforcement…”

The Board has to hold a public hearing before making a final approval on any change to the County's Code relating to this issue.

According to the discussion, there have been several instances throughout the county where this invasion of property is occurring.

“There's a lot out there. It's more than just chickens. Ducks, geese, you name it,” said Supervisor Elbert Womack, District Four.

County Administrator Judy Ownby noted that she knows of several instances when the residents have contacted her office. The Planning and Zoning Department has also received several calls from motorists on Route 60 too.

“I don't see why we can't have a public hearing and move forward,” added Womack.

Estes explained that he'd draft language, which would be proposed as an amendment to the County's Code, that would add 'fowl' and a Class 4 Misdemeanor for “losing control of your fowl” to start with.

The public hearing was set for the Board's December 13 meeting.