Buff laced Polish hen (copy)

This buff laced Polish hen was photographed by Hens & Chicks class teacher Brian Trader of the Delaware Botanic Gardens. Backyard chickens (fancy or otherwise) are a popular pet and small-scale food source, and are permitted on smaller AR-zoned parcels in Sussex County.

A Georgetown woman and her husband, concerned about a next-door neighbor whose goats, chickens and other farm animals are emitting odors and attracting flies and whose dogs bark and whine for hours, they assert, is hoping to raise awareness about what is permitted under Sussex County Code and what issues the Sussex County Council should re-examine.

In a detailed letter she sent to each council member, the woman, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation, told council members that allowing the same number of animals on small lots in agricultural zones as are allowed on larger lots is excessive.

She asked for a waste-management ordinance to protect landowners from non-commercial odors, dust and other contaminants; that unsightly properties be addressed; and that a dog barking ordinance be implemented.

During their Oct. 20 meeting, the council talked about how many farm animals should be allowed on small properties, and it is expected to be discussed further, said Cindy Green, who this month was elected to represent District 2, which encompasses northwestern and central Sussex County, including Georgetown, Greenwood, Lincoln, Milford and Millsboro.

Although she won’t be sworn in until early January, Green told the Coastal Point this week that she would be willing to visit any constituent and discuss concerns, but that she isn’t ready to “vote on everybody who has 5 acres or less and say we have to control how many animals are on everybody’s property.”

She confirmed that the County doesn’t have an ordinance addressing barking dogs and said her concern is for the “poor animal, who obviously isn’t happy.”

“I would be willing to come and talk to that individual for that individual issue, case by case. I’m happy to look at it,” Green said.

The woman also contacted state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, who, she said, “told me he has dealt with this in a couple different situations and would talk to people about it.”

She said she understood that Council President Mike Vincent had said he would consider pro-rating the number of farm animals allowed, based on acreage.

Vincent couldn’t be reached for comment, but during the Oct. 20 council discussion, he said he has heard concerns from county residents who asked if a property owner with 1 acre of land can keep the same number of farm animals — chickens, cows, goats, pigs — as someone who has 5 acres.

“Some people have lots on sides of roadways, and somebody builds houses on those lots; then, in the back yard, there are a lot of animals. Some people think that is too much. I’m not saying they are opposed to having a couple chickens in the back yard, but if you have … all these animals out back, it seems to be, maybe, excess,” Vincent said.

Councilman John Rieley, at that meeting, had said state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, inspect animal operations if the total weight of combined animals reaches 8,000 pounds.

“At that level, you would be required to have a management plan in place to take care of the manure — say, have it spread on a field. That could be eight 1,000-pound cows, a combination of hogs, cows and sheep, or anything that would equal 8,000 pounds,” he said.

In her letter to the council, the Georgetown woman asked council members to imagine “that you have purchased a peaceful country lot formed when a farmer sold off a narrow strip of land along the road.”

“It’s still zoned AR-1, as are the lots of all of your neighbors. Your new house is finished and you have settled in, enjoying the quiet life along with other like-minded neighbors. The house next door has been sold, and you greet the new neighbors.

“Now imagine the new neighbors are settling in. They quickly begin to build pens and a variety of animal sheds and cabins all over the small 2-acre lot. First, they bring in the poultry, utilizing the septic mound as a pen for the chickens, geese and turkeys. Guinea hens are added, and your quiet mornings are now filled with roosters crowing. Next, the neighbors pick up a few goats and sheep, then finally two pigs.

“As the year passes, the manure builds up. The foul stench of pig manure steeping in 8 inches of mud hits you whenever you walk out of your door. You can’t enjoy your backyard garden or pool without the offensive smell, and your neighbors farther down are complaining to you about it as well,” she wrote.

Of the neighbor’s three dogs, one barks and howls, she added.

She said she had talked to the neighbors and the barking improved for a while, but the smell increased, then the barking and howling began again.

“They know it’s an issue,” she told the Coastal Point.

The neighbors, she said, told her they planned to have 50 chickens so they could sell eggs at the market they run, but the woman said the County doesn’t allow having animals for commercial purposes on less than 5 acres.

The woman said she had learned that her neighbor had allegedly never gotten building permits for the nine structures he added to the small lot, and that County Code allows property zoned AR (agricultural-residential) of less than 5 acres to have up to 99 chickens, four cows, eight sheep, eight goats and eight hogs for family consumption.

She said she feels “trapped” in her “dream house by noise and stench” and is concerned about property values dropping and bacteria contaminating her well.

“This has been hell for us,” she said.

“We had a very quiet, rural community. Most people are very quiet and moved here because they appreciate the quiet. We have lost our privacy and the peacefulness of the area.”

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.