The Board of Selectmen and Board of Health voted Thursday to declare the McNiff Farm a nuisance and a health hazard.
The move, which came following a Nov. 28 investigation requested by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, orders the house to be vacated and all animals, animal feed and animal waste to be removed from the property.
"They're judging (the farm) by its cover," he said. "I don't think the town is treating us well."
Separate reports completed by town employees and the MSPCA argued that the farm had a variety of problems, including more than 100 sick and neglected animals, dead pigs on the property, rat infestations, and piles of rubbish and manure.
The MSPCA removed more than 80 pigs from the property after its own investigation on Nov. 23, and it also said the farm lacked proper water for its calves.
District Sanitarian Bridgette Braley wrote the property is "not habitable" in her opinion, and Ayer Animal Inspector Carlene Purdy wrote that she was "deeply saddened to see the deterioration and decline of this farm in one year's time."
Arnold, however, called the allegations inaccurate.
He said the backyard sits on wetland, which contributes to it being flooded, and argued that animals were not standing in 6 inches of manure as the MSPCA told the town, but instead in 6 inches of mud.
Arnold also said the animals are properly fed and have access to an automatic water dispenser.
"They eat a lot better than I do," he said. "We treat them pretty well."
The family raises the animals and then sells them to slaughterhouses to be butchered, Arnold said.
"This farm is not a pet farm," he said. "These animals are raised to kill."
Some have concerns about the conditions of the house and yard, too. In 2014, residents argued that the property should be deemed a nuisance.
Arnold acknowledged the messy conditions, but said cleaning is expensive and puts hardship on the family. He said some of the vehicles that sit on the property are there because he is waiting for parts to fix them.
Arnold pointed to other challenges the family has faced, such as having thousands of dollars worth of tools and several vehicles stolen from the property or the costs of getting farm-specific license plates, as contributing to the situation. He also said that farming is by its nature a dirty business, and that for many years the property operated without other residences nearby.
The town's orders require a variety of actions to be taken in addition to the property being vacated: McNiff must hire an exterminator to eradicate rats and vermin, submit a plan to remediate all nuisances and dangerous conditions within 30 days, and enact that plan within 90 days.
The family plans to appeal the order from the town's joint boards.
"We're fighting this," Arnold said. "This farm's been here since the 1800s. We're not taking this sitting down."
(Lowell Sun - Dec 11, 2016)
- Massachusetts: Officials disagree over status of McNiff's 'farm'
- Massachusetts: Ayer farmer Ralph McNiff pays $29G in taxes to keep his property
- Massachusetts: Animals found living in deplorable conditions on Ayer farm. Animals ordered to be humanely removed
- Massachusetts: Ralph McNiff, 75, has been battling with town officials for more than 8 years. Finally something is being done about the animals he has purposely neglected and let suffer and die