BARNEGAT, NJ – It’s second in the lyrics. Old MacDonald’s had a farm, and on his farm, he had a pig. Sure, it’s just a children’s song. However, one Barnegat resident wants to know why the Township considers pigs pets rather than farm animals. More importantly, why don’t his chickens count as pets, as well?
The saga concerning the legality of chicken ownership continues. At last month’s Barnegat Township committee meeting, a couple of residents came in to request an ordinance change. The way the local ordinances currently read, it’s one farm animal per acre. Other communities might make different allowances for poultry. However, that’s not the case in Barnegat.
“I’m confused as far as the difference,” admits Christopher Aguilar, who owns four hens and a rooster with his girlfriend, Cassandra Tauschek. “People say pigs and ducks are legal because they are pets. Truth is, my chickens are pets, too.”
Maria Cymanski, Barnegat’s Animal Control Officer, offered some clarification. “Potbelly pigs are domestic animals,” she explained. “In residential areas, animals are not supposed to live outside exclusively. People who have pigs as pets take care of them like dogs. The pigs do go outside, but they live in domestic habitats.”
In response to complaints, Cymanski visited the Mast Drive home where Aguilar and Tauschek keep their chickens. Subsequently, the Animal Control Officer made a referral to New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture. “It was not a cruelty complaint,” says Cymanski.
A veterinarian from the Department of Agriculture came by to check on the chickens on October 4, 2019. Three days later, a letter directed Aguilar and Tauschek documented that “the animals were found to be in conditions consistent with Humane Standards.” Also, the chickens showed “no obvious signs of pain or illness.”
From all appearances, no one seems to be questioning how well the couple takes care of their chickens. Instead, the focus is on the legality of them living in an area zoned as residential.
One of the biggest challenges is the rooster. According to Aguilar, he never crows before 7 am or after 9 pm. Additionally, Aguilar has taken steps to take down the sound of the crow, which he submits is no louder than a barking dog.
“Approximately three weeks ago, I installed a no-crow collar on the rooster,” says Aguilar. “It’s a piece of Velcro that doesn’t allow him to expand his air chamber as much. It’s not inhumane and cuts the volume to at least half.”
Since he appeared before the Township Committee, Aguilar has proactively continued his attempts to change Barnegat’s ordinances regarding chicken ownership. One of his first steps was to write a letter to the Mayor with some suggestions.
“My opinion is there should be a $25-$50 fee for permitting flock, with one rooster per household,” submits Aguilar. He also thinks that 1500 square feet should be the minimal yard space for up to six chickens. Among other things, Aguilar is all for annual inspections and permits.
Aguilar and Tauschek aren’t alone in their fight. Their “Chickens for Barnegat” Facebook page has nearly doubled to 331 followers since its creation a few weeks ago. Sarai-ann Knott wrote a letter of her own to the Township, which was cosigned by several others. And, all the chicken owners plan to flock together at Thursday’s Committee meeting.
In the meantime, the chicken fight has Aguilar and Tauschek embroiled in some legal battles. The police have come to their home no less than a dozen times since Aguilar first brought the issue to the local government’s attention.
On October 22, 2019, Barnegat police gave Aguilar and Tauschek separate citations for “having farm animals on less than an acre of property. A third ticket was also issued – to the couple’s landlord. Barnegat Municipal Court will hear the complaint on November 13, 2019.
“We’ve also received a letter from an attorney threatening us with eviction,” shares Aguilar. “It says if we don’t correct the situation within 30 days from the date of the letter, our lease ends, and we have to leave.”
Aguilar and Tauschek have no intention of “flying the coop.” Although they haven’t heard back from the Mayor, they’re both hopeful that Barnegat will change its ordinances to make them more in line with other local communities.
Hoping it’s not a “when pigs can fly” kind of answer, Barnegat’s chicken owners are intent on their peaceful squawking resulting in flocks treated like household pets.
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.