GARDINER — Jeff Dumas is a man who likes his chickens.

His rooster, Nugget, is a handsome Rhode Island Red whose adult tail plumage is starting to grow in. The bird seemed content to sit in the crook of Dumas’ arm Wednesday afternoon in the backyard of his Highland Avenue home, surveying his domain and his clutch of chickens.

But now, Nugget has to go.

“Somebody said something to somebody,” Dumas said.

Dumas, who has lived in his house for 15 years and owned it for 13, has run afoul of the city code, and now the rooster probably will go to a farm in West Gardiner, he said.

Dumas said he didn’t realize roosters were banned in the city.

“Every other house on this street has been busted for drugs,” he said, weighing his infraction against the actions of his neighbors.

Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said he would not comment or confirm whether criminal investigations are taking place in Dumas’ Highland Avenue neighborhood.

“If someone suspects illegal activity is taking place, they should give us as much information as possible so they can be part of the solution,” he said.

Jeff Dumas holds his rooster called Nugget on Wednesday in Gardiner after he received a notice that roosters are not allowed to live in his zoning district.

Jeff Dumas holds his rooster called Nugget on Wednesday in Gardiner after he received a notice that roosters are not allowed to live in his zoning district. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

A GIFT FROM FRIENDS

Growing up in rural Sidney, Dumas said, he kept chickens. A few years ago he raised a half-dozen turkeys in his backyard and no one complained about them.

Earlier this year, Dumas built a chicken coop in his backyard, converting an old tool shed so he could raise chickens and collect their eggs. When they stop laying, he said, he probably will eat the chickens. “That’s what the farmers do,” he said.

He was bragging about the project to friends, who then brought him the rooster and several chickens in addition to the chicks he had bought himself.

“How much do you pay for a chicken in the grocery store?” he said. “The chicks were $3 apiece.”

Dumas said he’s talked with his neighbors on both sides of his house and the tenants in his own building, and they have told them they can’t hear his rooster.

“At 4:20 a.m. you can hear him,” he said. “If my windows are closed, I can’t hear him.”

He discovered the ban on roosters when he found a notice last Friday on the coop to contact the Gardiner Code Enforcement Office.

He did, and now he’s waiting to hear back about the application that’s required to be allowed to keep chickens.

Barb Skelton, the code enforcement officer, said Gardiner has rules in place that govern livestock and animals kept inside city limits.

Residents are allowed to keep up to six chickens in all districts in the city except the business district if they meet a series of conditions: The pens must be in a side yard or backyard, screened from view, in a yard with 1,000 square feet of grass, at least 15 feet from all property lines, and 75 feet from an abutting dwelling.

Nugget the rooster, right, and some other chickens stand in their pen on Wednesday in Gardiner.

Nugget the rooster, right, and some other chickens stand in their pen on Wednesday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

ROOSTERS NOT ALLOWED

Two other limitations apply: Chickens are allowed on properties with one- and two-family houses, but not three-family houses, and roosters are not allowed.

Regulations on keeping chickens are nothing new in the region. The Maine Townsman, the magazine for the Maine Municipal Association, noted in 2010 that a number of communities across the state were starting to enact regulations on keeping chickens. Many Maine cities ban roosters outright, as Gardiner does, according to the Townsman.

Last month, the Winslow Town Council passed an ordinance that will allow residents in non-rural areas of the town to have chickens for personal use.

Some cities have banned urban chicken-keeping outright. Debates in Lewiston and Bangor several years ago led to bans on the practice.

MORE FLEXIBILITY IN HALLOWELL

Other communities, such as Hallowell, are not very restrictive. City Clerk Diane Polky said the city’s animal control ordinance says simply that no livestock or domestic or wild animals shall be kept within the compact or built-up area of the city in such a manner as to constitute a public nuisance. In the event of a complaint, either the police chief or the health officer can give notice to abate the nuisance. Failing to comply would result in a fine.

Skelton confirmed that her office had received a complaint about Nugget, and it’s not the first complaint made about a rooster in Gardiner.

“We’ve had quite a few complaints in another part of town,” she said.

One rooster was removed voluntarily by its owner and no citation was issued. A second instance took a while to resolve, but the owner of that rooster eventually took it to another town.

“As far as I know,” Skelton said, “there was no killing of the roosters.”

In the case involving Dumas, she said, the pen will have to be moved. It appears to be right along the property line, which is not allowed.

Skelton said she has another question, and the answer will guide whether Dumas will be allowed to keep any chickens at all. “There’s a discrepancy about whether that’s a two-family or a three-family dwelling,” she said.

Assessing records indicate it’s a three-family building. If that’s the case, Dumas won’t be able to keep chickens. Skelton said she can’t confirm the building classification until next week when the city assessor will be available.

In the meantime, Dumas can sit and watch Nugget and the chickens, who all have names, such as Scrambled and Sunny-side Up, and feed them table scraps.

“When the dogs bark, he goes nuts,” Dumas said, referring to the rooster.

He doesn’t plan to push for any changes to city rules. He knows the rooster will go just as soon as the city tells him he has to give the bird up, and he’s awaiting word from the Code Enforcement Office about how many chickens he’s allowed to have.

“I would probably complain if (the rooster) woke me up,” Dumas said. “But if you’re inside, you can’t hear him.”