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Odor complaints spur crackdown on Amherst animal farm 

  • Michelle Chandler of Amherst holds "Cielo," an American Blue meat rabbit, March 7, 2018 at her West Pomeroy Lane property. Chandler recently received a cease-and-desist order from the town requiring her to remove all livestock from the property, based on a Feb. 8 inspection prompted by ongoing complaints of odors in the neighborhood. Chandler intends to challenge the order at a Board of Health meeting at the Bangs Community Center on Thursday. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Rabbit droppings are shown below a hutch March 7, 2018 at Michelle Chandler's West Pomeroy Lane property in Amherst. Chandler covers the droppings over with leaves and uses the manure to fertilize her gardens below. She recently received a cease-and-desist order from the town requiring her to remove all livestock from the property, based on a Feb. 8 inspection prompted by ongoing complaints of odors in the neighborhood. Chandler intends to challenge the order at a Board of Health meeting at the Bangs Community Center on Thursday. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Michelle Chandler of Amherst holds "Cielo," an American Blue meat rabbit, March 7, 2018 at her West Pomeroy Lane property. Chandler recently received a cease-and-desist order from the town requiring her to remove all livestock from the property, based on a Feb. 8 inspection prompted by ongoing complaints of odors in the neighborhood. Chandler intends to challenge the order at a Board of Health meeting at the Bangs Community Center on Thursday. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



Staff Writer
Thursday, March 08, 2018

AMHERST — A farmer who has used her small residential property to raise rabbits and chickens to feed her family could be forced to give up the animals, including a small herd of goats, because town officials continue to receive complaints of odors in the neighborhood.

Michelle Chandler, of 326 West Pomeroy Lane, last month received a cease-and-desist order from health inspector Susan Malone and code enforcement officer Jon Thompson, based on a Feb. 8 inspection. Chandler intends to challenge the order at a Board of Health meeting at the Bangs Community Center Thursday night.

“I am deeply aggravated that there is such upset at this,” Chandler said Wednesday, speaking from her home, where she keeps 15 rabbits, 50 hens and 10 goats. “I’m trying to live with integrity and raise meat in an ethical manner, and I’m sorry it’s causing discomfort to anybody.”

Since 2008, Chandler has kept chickens and rabbits, using both as sources of food, on the 1.14-acre parcel. She later added goats to what she calls Blessed Acre Farm and Rabbitry.

The town order states that Chandler “must remove all livestock, including but not limited to chickens, rabbits and goats, from the property no later than Feb. 15, 2018. Further, due to the history of nuisance complaints and concerns for animal well-being, any applications for a livestock permit will not be accepted for (her) property.”

Health Director Julie Federman said the recent order was prompted by multiple reports in January and February of an overwhelming smell caused by the rabbit droppings on Chandler’s property.

“The basic issue is Ms. Chandler keeps a lot of animals on her property and there’s a lot of odor,” Federman said. “We’ve worked closely with her to come up with remedies and solutions, and it’s just not working.”

Federman said she got experts at the University of Massachusetts involved in finding ways to compost the manure, most of which is generated by the rabbits, to reduce the smell. Yet this has been ineffective.

“She’s shown that she can’t manage the amount of manure that creates the offensive odor for the neighbors,” Federman said. “It’s really a small property to have all this agricultural activity happening.”

But Chandler said any perceptible odor from her farming activities ends at her property line, which borders the Hadley town line and a residential neighborhood in Amherst. She argues that if there are smells from her site, they are minimal compared to what a nearby pig farm creates, or the smell when manure is applied to large fields in Hadley.

Chandler said she kept the rabbits at a property across the street to reduce the chance of complaints last summer. In that case, her neighbor obtained a livestock permit to have the animals from April through Christmas. This seemed to resolve the matter, but complaints began again in January and February when the rabbits were brought back to her property. The rabbits are not currently nursing or getting any bigger, she said.

“My perception is Julie’s office gets these complaints and just wants them to go away,” Chandler said.

Federman said Chandler could be fined for noncompliance, though that is not the usual action the Board of Health or her department takes.

Chandler’s property has been the subject of complaints in the past, including reports of animals escaping and concerns about whether her livestock is well cared for. Federman said those concerns are not part of the current complaints. Federman said there is plenty of space in the hutches for each rabbit, and Chandler’s hens and goats have sufficient room.

Another issue Chandler faces is that she has never sought a permit to keep the animals, based on the zoning rules and livestock regulations in outlying residential areas. Chandler said she doesn’t recall ever receiving any communication from the health department asking her to register the livestock.

Chandler said she has not been doing anything in secret and that she spoke at a Town Meeting seven years ago to advocate for town bylaws to allow more residents to keep chickens and rabbits in their backyards. She has also been outspoken about promoting a more sustainable lifestyle.

Depending on the outcome of Thursday’s Board of Health meeting at 5:05 p.m., Chandler said she could appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals within 30 days.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra said in an email the zoning issue at the moment is that Chandler did not register her livestock.

“A registration will identify the type and number of livestock in order to confirm further compliance with regulations,” Morra said.

With Amherst being a right-to farm-community, Chandler said she should not have to face the stress associated with the cease-and-desist order, and that she should be supported by the town for what she is doing ethically, environmentally, economically and educationally with her livestock.

“My point is not only am I not doing anything wrong, I’m doing a whole lot of things right,” Chandler said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

Editor’s Note: This story was modified at 9:30 a.m. on March 8, 2018, to add the size of Chandler’s lot.