The Napa County Board of Supervisors last week denied a south county couple seeking a permit to keep up to 1,000 roosters on their property near American Canyon.
The couple, Jack and Thelma Barrow, applied for the permit in 2011 but were denied in July 2012. They appealed, and it marked the first challenge of a 2-year-old county ordinance capping the number of roosters per parcel to 100 birds. Having any more than that requires a permit.
The board put a cap on roosters as a way to deter illegal cockfighting and clean up public nuisances associated with some large rooster-raising ranches.
The board unanimously denied that appeal Tuesday, affirming a Planning Department determination that the Barrows had not submitted an adequate site plan with their permit application.
Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Greg Clark said Friday he wasn’t sure what will happen with the Barrows’ excess roosters given the board’s ruling. He said he believed it would ultimately end up as a matter for county code enforcement, which would limit the Barrows to 100 roosters per parcel. The Napa County Counsel’s Office has 45 days to draft findings that will finalize the decision.
Thelma Barrow, 72, said Friday that she and her
77-year-old husband were planning to consult with their attorney, Charles Gravett, early this week to decide what to do next. Barrow said she disputed the board’s decision, and contended they did everything they were asked to in the permitting process.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Barrow said. “We had no violations at all of any kind. We’re just hoping for the best. It hurts all the way around, financially.”
Thelma Barrow opposed the ordinance when it was first proposed, and at the time called it an “unfair attack on traditional family life and property rights.”
The Barrows have raised chickens and roosters on their farm between American Canyon Road and Interstate 80 for decades, Gravett told the supervisors on Tuesday. It’s one of their primary sources of income, which is coupled with some Social Security payments and money they make from leasing space for others to raise roosters.
“They have been on that farm for 44 years,” Gravett told the supervisors. “The farm is their livelihood.”
Gravett argued that if the Barrows’ permit was denied, it would set a precedent against rooster-raising in Napa County.
“Is everything going to be perfect?” Gravett asked. “No. It’s a fine operation for what it is, and if they can’t get a permit you can’t get a permit for raising roosters in this county.”
Greg Music, an agricultural biologist with the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, told the supervisors he inspected the farm last June and found approximately 1,000 roosters. He said the problems he witnessed at the site were largely confined to pens in spaces leased out by the Barrows.
About half the roosters were kept tethered in a fenced-in area, which prevents them from escaping predators, Music wrote in his inspection report. He wrote that he saw a chicken wing during his visit, which he considered evidence of predation.
Music also wrote that a number of the roosters’ tethers were too short, preventing them reaching shelter or water. Some water containers had enough algae to prevent the birds’ beaks from being able to drink, he said.
This would not happen if the containers were cleaned daily, said Music, who considered these conditions inhumane and a basis for denying the permit.
Jeanne Smith, a consulting veterinarian for the Barrows, testified Tuesday that she disputed Music’s assertion that the conditions were inhumane.
She said tethering is a common practice that dates back centuries, and the algae was confined to corners of the containers. While she said she didn’t go into the tenant pens as Music did, she could tell from standing outside that the roosters were behaving normally, which indicated to her that they were in good health and adequately watered.
“I saw nothing that I would say was inhumane or unsanitary conditions,” Smith said.
In explaining why he would deny their permit, Supervisor Keith Caldwell said he wanted to make sure the Barrows understood that he wasn’t targeting the conditions of their birds, only the problems Music detected in the tenant pens. Caldwell said he has visited the site in the past, and recognizes the care they have for their birds.
“This is not about denying someone their right to raise roosters on their property,” Caldwell said. “(Jack Barrow) loves his birds dearly — I can attest to that.”
But Caldwell said he felt the problems Music found were sufficient to deny the permit.
“I would not support the appeal as part of that,” Caldwell said.
Supervisor Mark Luce said he didn’t believe the evidence Music presented was enough to consider the conditions inhumane, particularly considering the number of birds on the property. He voted to deny the appeal, however, based on the inadequate site plan.
“I don’t think we have ample evidence of inhumane care,” Luce said. “We’re talking really subtle differences. Out of a thousand birds, I don’t agree.”