woman holding fresh eggs in kitchenMetropolitan farms have been popping up all over the place, everywhere from Portland to New York City to Boston. And while I have nothing but respect for those who grow cucumbers and cabbages on their rooftops, it takes a very special kind of person to go one step further and begin raising farm animals in the concrete jungles. On a first glance, it doesn’t seem natural. Pigs shouldn’t live in the city. They probably don’t even like the city. And not many neighbors want Babe, Gordy and Wilbur renting out the loft next door. But recently, urbanites have started shaking off the “farm animals must live on a farm” stigma, and they’ve started up a whole new branch of close-quarters husbandry.

Before we go any further, I should say that I’m not against these urban-farming upstarts. It seems like a noble practice, driven by a desire to end food deserts and increase a community’s sustainability. But it doesn’t take an agricultural commissioner to point out that there are some real challenges that come along with raising animals in urban settings. Let’s take a look at the ups and downs of raising common livestock in the city to decide if that pet chicken is really worth the trouble.

Stay on the Right Side of the Law

Don’t be the black sheep in your community. If your city allows you to have certain livestock within city limits, then more power to you, but don’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes as a means to raise a couple of lamb chops. Take a careful look at your hometown’s laws concerning urban husbandry, and don’t be shy about speaking with your state extension agency. They’ll be able to steer you in the right direction. If you live in a smaller city, you shouldn’t be surprised if the zoning laws about farm animals are still unclear – for instance, the laws might neglect to comment on the definition of farm animal and the definition of pet. But many of the larger cities are already adjusting to these new trends and taking careful steps to open up urban farming opportunities while keeping citizens safe. Take San Diego, for instance, which has a wonderful brochure on the regulations and zoning requirements for raising pygmy goats.

Another part of urban husbandry that should be mentioned is the slaughtering process. Even if you’re skilled in the ways of the butcher, the laws for slaughtering are extremely stringent in most cities. Some states have made exceptions for mobile slaughter units that specialize in doing this work for you.

Chickens

Often considered the clucking poster child of the urban farming movement, chickens are appearing in backyards and community gardens throughout the world. City farmers are raising chickens for their eggs and their meat, but a surprising amount of people are just keeping them as family pets. A group of students from the Royal College of Art in London is partially responsible for this, coming out with the Eglu, a small-scale chicken coop meant for suburban areas. But whatever chicken-housing device you decide to use, make sure it has the ability to collect droppings and protect the chickens from predators. And most importantly, make sure it’s mobile. The majority of the pens available don’t have bottoms built in, meaning your chickens will be eating the grass in your yard. If you’re not moving your fowl friends on a regular basis, your lush Kentucky bluegrass is going to turn into a pit of dirt. Don’t look at this as a design flaw; instead, consider your chicken coop your personal chicken-fueled lawn mower. You only have to move it every couple of days, your grass gets a fine trim, and instead of gas emissions, your mower pumps out eggs for breakfast. John Deere has been doing it wrong for over a hundred years.

That being said, there’s still a lot of controversy concerning metropolitan chickens. Most importantly, it’s difficult to make chickens profitable, especially on a small scale. And members of the chicken opposition, including the group Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter, have some doubts about the safety of raising chickens in the city. But even still, this urban chicken market is booming from coast to coast.

Cows, Horses and Buffalo

Not a chance, pilgrim. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a city that allows you to raise and breed larger livestock animals. And for most of us, this is for the best. Consider the time commitment and the space requirements. Think about the mess! There’s a reason that horses are at the end of the parade.

Goats

There’s a wide range of uses for goats, including companionship, dairy, fiber and meat. But before you develop an appetite for chevon, let’s think about the commitment. Goats are herd animals, which means you’ll want to buy at least two at a time. This might sound great, but adding an extra goat means you’ve just doubled the costs of your operation.

Space is another variable to consider. Regular-sized goats will usually need about 30 square feet of outdoor space and 10 square feet of indoor space. Large doghouses would probably work for shelter, but you’ll want to have them insulated during the colder months (straw works well).

Besides space, one of the largest concerns for urban goat farmers is the noise. Certain goat breeds are louder than others (some even scream), and all of that noise can be too much for neighbors in the city. Being a nuisance can result in you receiving citations (or worse). So do your research. Better yet, get your whole community on board with your goat operation. Goat shares are a great way to provide healthy, raw milk to the people around your neighborhood, especially when a goat can produce as much a half gallon of milk each day.

Pigs

I don’t like pigs. All the ones I’ve ever known were jerks. And they have a tendency to destroy your grass, dig up your flowers and turn your backyard into a dirty puddle. But I know people who’ve had great success with pig farming, even small-scale pig farming.

The biggest puzzle piece to keeping city pigs is the fencing. This is the last defense between your pigs and your neighborhood. Again, check your city’s ordinances before starting this little DIY project. If you’re planning on using pigs as a source of food, you shouldn’t have to wait too long. Most pigs will be ready for slaughter within 6 months. If you’ve got “Some Pig” on your hands, though, and you can’t imagine any harm coming to it, you should consider training it like a pet. Some breeds of pigs are capable of being housebroken. But you’ll need to start your training when the pig is young.

Rabbits

Rabbits are perhaps some of the easiest animals to raise within city limits. They provide meat and fiber, and they reproduce at a quick rate. But like any other animal, regular maintenance is necessary, especially when it comes to keeping their cages clean. High temperatures are one of the biggest dangers for rabbits, so follow these tips to keep them from suffering from heat exhaustion.

Bees

Often overlooked, bees provide honey while simultaneously pollinating your neighborhood. There is a significant pushback against bees, though, largely because people are afraid of being stung. This is an undeserved stereotype, since honeybees are relatively gentle as long as they’re not being bothered. Even still, it would be best if you put a fence or shrubbery around the box hive, which would then cause the bees to go upward rather than fly – dare I say beeline – straight into your neighbors’ yards.

Another problem you should look out for is swarming. Healthy hives often become overpopulated, which means that the queen will pack her bags and leave the nest to a younger queen. The older queen will take a portion of the bees with her and start her own hive nearby. But before you start licking your lips at all that excess honey, you should consider the problems a wild hive could cause. You don’t have any control over where the bees decide to roost. It could be in your trees, or in your attic, or in your neighbor’s attic. It can cause serious problems. So requeening every year or every other year will minimize the risk for possible swarms. The politics involved with bees during their swarming season can become pretty intense. You should check it out.

If you want a no-hands approach to raising bees, you should think about renting out beehives from the professionals. Hive rentals are headed by professional beekeepers, which means you’ll have all the benefits without having to get too close to the bees.

Calling Urban Farmers

Raising livestock in city limits is a fantastic goal, but there are some serious hurdles you need to consider before making it a reality. If your inspiration came from playing Farmville or Hay Day, this might not be the career choice for you, but if you’re serious about making a difference in your community, you should take the time to do your research. Talk to your local extension agency, as well as urban farmers from around the globe.

And if your city is still slow to get on board, lead the movement by calling your lawmakers to action. Better yet, find organizations in your community that could rally around this cause. Power in numbers is an effective tool for getting the attention of your officials. Safety is an important aspect of this movement, so expect the process to be long-winded. But with enough support, urban husbandry could be an excellent way to bring local, healthy foods to you and your neighborhood.

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