In an effort to be supportive of the sustainability movement and local food
production, the Board of Health updated its regulations regarding the keeping of
hens and honeybees in May of 2016, Town officials announced.
The Health Department is pleased to report that there are currently five approved permits issued for the keeping of hens in Watertown, though there have been no requests for approval of honeybees.
The new regulations followed over one year of research, discussions with industry
experts, and public hearings, and have resulted in relaxed standards on setbacks
that allow more properties to comply than had been able to in the past. The new
standards include provisions for setbacks from property lines and neighboring
properties, how much owners must know about caring for hens and honeybees,
restrictions on number of hives and hens allowed, and standards for storing feed
and waste. A permit is required for each location where hens or honeybees will be
kept, and approval from abutters is required.
Deborah Rosati, Director of Public Health, says that to help the public understand
what it takes to keep hens and honeybees, the Health Department and Library have assembled a display of books and brochures on the subject in addition to
Watertown’s required regulation and application package. The display will run
through mid-August and is located on the second floor of the Main Street library in
front of the reference desk.
The purpose of the review and permitting process is to ensure that residents
understand the requirements for building a completely enclosed coop and pen,
protecting the hens from predators like coyotes, raccoons, birds that may carry
disease, and rats that may burrow underneath a coop without the required wire
mesh floor. Keeping animals of any kind in a suburban setting is very different
than a rural farm area. The responsibility of the Board of Health is to reduce the
possibility this becomes a nuisance while protecting the health of residents and
The Animal Inspector for the Town inspects each location to ensure compliance
with the required standards, and accounts for all hens and other animals to the
Department of Agriculture.
There are required side and rear setbacks and some properties will not meet the
guidelines. It is important for residents to understand that they will be required to
move or dismantle facilities that were built without a permit and are not in
compliance with the regulations.
Residents have had honey bees prior to the regulations, so it has been difficult for
them to understand the reason these regulations are important. An increasing
number of bee hives in the community requires cooperation and monitoring for
possible disease in the area. Watertown has already experienced the impact of a
diseased hive in town that resulted in the death of an entire hive of bees, and that
could negatively affect other hives. Monitoring the location and health of each hive
is important to everyone.
Please call the Health Department at 617-972- 6446 if you have any questions
about the regulations or application process. The application and regulations are
also available on the Town website under the Health Department, Applications and Regulations tab