OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Commission considered changing the rules for the number of farm animals allowed on lots of 5 acres or less in the Viking Properties at its Nov. 7 meeting before sending the matter back to the Planning Board for more discussion.
According to the county staff report, almost all of the lots in Viking are zoned agriculture and most parcels are 5 acres or less. Current zoning regulations for lots 5 acres or less limit farm animals to horses or cows. The minimum parcel size to keep any farm animals is 1 acre. Two horses or cows may be kept on a parcel that is 1 acre, with an increasing number of animals on larger parcels up to a maximum of six horses or cows on parcels that are 5 acres in area. Parcels over 5 acres that are zoned agriculture have no limit on the number of farm animals that may be kept.
The Planning Board has recommended revisions to expand the type of animals that may be kept, but to maintain the limit on the number of farm animals. The Planning Board also recommended allowing up to 12 poultry in addition to other livestock that may be kept.
Florida Statute defines farm animals as animals of the equine, bovine or swine class, including goats, sheep, mules, horses, hogs, cattle, ostriches and other grazing animals. Poultry is defined as chickens, turkeys, ducks, guineas, geese, pigeons raised as domestic food birds, quail and other domesticated food birds.
Jackie Allen, who owns a total of 11 acres in Viking, asked the board to consider different numbers for smaller animals such as sheep and goats.
She also questioned the portion of the county ordinance about the setbacks required for buildings that house farm animals.
“Most people like me who moved to the Viking have little animals and they love their animals and take very good care of their animals,” she said.
She said she owns two parcels in Viking, a 5-acre parcel which includes her house and 6 acres across the street.
She noted the ordinance requires buildings to house animals must be set back 25 feet from property line.
“Many of us purchased in the Viking with existing structures,” she said.
“On my property there is a two-car garage or workshop on the property line,” she said. “On another property line there are four wooden telephone poles with an open air chicken coop.
“I have been paying taxes on these structures ever since I have owned the property,” she said.
She said she had a title search done before she purchased the property and had no indication there was a problem with the location of the structures.
Ms. Allen said she is working with a government program that advises farmers about the number of “animal units” a property will sustain.
She said they advised her to clear the 6 acres, put in a well and add cross fencing.
The goal of these improvements is to spend less on purchasing feed for the livestock.
She said one animal unit is based on the acreage needed to support a cow with a calf up to six months old.
A horse eats 25 percent more than a cow, she said. A full size sheep eats 20 percent of what a cow would eat.
“You can put five full size sheep on the area one cow would graze on,” she said. Alternately, nine goats could graze the same area.
“My little mini sheep and little goats are like medium size dogs,” she said.
Ms. Allen said the government program indicates you can have many more animals that are of smaller size.
She asked the county commission to consider higher numbers for smaller size animals on the lots of 5 acres or less.
In regard to poultry, she suggested the rule be that for properties of less than 2 acres, the limit should be 12 female birds. She said roosters can create a noise issue.
“I would like for you to consider other types of animals.”
“The smaller parcels are residential lots. They aren’t farms,” said Planning Director Bill Royce. “If you want unlimited farm animals, if you have more than 5 acres you can do that.”
He said if the structures are on the lot lines, they were probably constructed illegally without permits.
“We are not driving around looking for problems,” Mr. Royce said. In most cases you can’t tell where the property lines are just by looking.
“If we get a complaint then we go out and look at it,” he said.
If a structure was built without a permit, it becomes a code enforcement issue. The options may be to move the structure, demolish the structure, or obtain a variance from the county.
He said the Planning Board can approve a variance on a case-by-case basis. A number of factors are considered. The structure would still have to meet the health and safety standards.
“If you’ve had a structure out there for the past 15 years and now you are asking someone to move it, that doesn’t seem right,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs.
“As long as the structure is sound, I have no issue with it,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.
“I think it should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, not grandfathered in,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread.
County Attorney John Cassels said unpermitted structures don’t come up in a title search. He said a potential buyer would be advised to make sure all structures were legally permitted before buying a property. “If you have an unpermitted building you can have a very serious health and safety issue,” he added.