Housing Animals on an Urban Farm
By Liz Greene
If you’re looking to expand your urban farming effort to include animals, it’s important to check your city’s zoning codes to determine what animals are allowed — and under what conditions. If you have approval from the city, consider getting your neighbors’ blessing before you buy your first chicken or goat. People are more likely to accept your new critters as being part of the neighborhood when they’re communicated with openly.
Although there are numerous animals that can be kept successfully on an urban farm, for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to cover the three most popular: Chickens, goats, and bees.
Chicken-keeping has exploded in popularity lately, and it’s not hard to see why. Chickens make fantastic pets — with the added benefit of producing fresh eggs.
Keeping your chickens productive and healthy starts with feeding them the best food you can afford. The bulk of their diet should be a premium laying mash or pellet. Supplement this with occasional fresh fruit, green vegetables, mealworms, and other healthy treats.
Observe your chickens’ health and interaction daily — this makes it easier to recognize when something is wrong. A sick chicken is often less active and has an unkempt appearance. However, not all diseases show the same symptoms. If you find one of your chickens is ill, quarantine them and call the vet immediately.
A roaming chicken is a happy chicken, so let your chickens have free range of your property. Keep your flock safe during the day with a six-foot privacy fence and plenty of shrubs and bushes to take shelter under. If hawks and other birds of prey are a common concern, you may have to confine your chickens to a covered run.
Nighttime safety demands a predator-proof coop. Ensure raccoons, cats, and other animals can’t gain access to your flock by installing secure latches and wire-mesh fencing with small enough openings to prevent predators from reaching through the bars and grabbing your chickens.
Goats can be tricky to keep, but they’re incredibly endearing and well worth the effort. Plus, fresh milk and the ability to make your own cheese whenever you want aren’t a bad addition to the bargain.
Green forage and quality hay should form the foundation of your goats’ diet, along with varying amounts of a concentrated grain ration to balance out nutrients. Since goats refuse to eat dirty hay, your hay manger should be both easy to clean and constructed in a manner that prevents your goats from pulling out and trampling the hay.
Goat housing doesn’t have to be overly complicated. As long as it’s ventilated and draft-free, simple structures like three-sided shelters and port-a-huts work well. What is important is keeping your goats’ housing clean. This will cut down on flies, parasites, diseases, and odors. You can choose to remove manure daily or use a deep litter system wherein you regularly layer fresh bedding and then muck it out twice a year.
A good fence is essential for containing goats — and goats aren’t easy to contain. There are two fencing types that work well for goats: multi-strand, high-tensile electric fence and woven wire fencing. Woven wire fencing for goats is around 4 feet tall — be sure to choose openings that are 4 in. x 4 in. or smaller to keep goats from getting their heads stuck in the fence. For electric fencing, wires should be closely spaced (5 to 6 wires spaced to an overall height of 40 to 46 inches).
There are two important things to know about keeping goats. One, goats are social creatures and do not like to be alone. You will not have a goat, you will have goats. Two, in order to keep a female goat lactating, she will need to be bred annually. Be prepared to have kids and deal with all the fun stuff that goes along with the breeding process.
Keeping bees can be incredibly beneficial to your garden — they help your vegetables, flowers, and other plants thrive! There’s also the promise of fresh honey, which is nothing to sniff at.
Start by determining whether your area can provide ample forage for your bees year-round — or if they will be dependent on you for supplementation. Then take stock of your space. Is your backyard big enough for one or two hives? Remember to factor in other space considerations — like recreational play, cookouts, family pets, and your garden.
Check with your family and neighbors to make sure they are on board with the enterprise as many people are allergic to bee stings. As rewarding as beekeeping can be, it’s not worth anyone’s life.
Once you have the go-ahead, choose the beehive’s location carefully to reduce safety concerns. Don’t place a hive near sidewalks or play areas where bee air traffic may pose a threat — instead, tuck it into the corner of a yard, away from regular human activity. Direct the flight pattern of your bees by installing a section of 6- to 8-foot-tall privacy fence in front of the hive entrance. Bees leaving the hive will fly up and over the fence, achieving a height where they will not encounter people.
You’ll also need the proper equipment for your beekeeping needs. There are a handful of absolute, must-have items for most beekeepers:
- A Smoker
- A Hive Tool
- Bottom Board
- Inner and Outer Covers
- Protective Clothing
- Hat and Veil
- Lightweight Jacket
- Full Suit (optional)
While beekeeping doesn’t require much of a time commitment, the timing of certain activities (such as when to add new supers and when to harvest honey) is critical. You have to be available and ready to work when the bees need you — which can vary year to year. Plan on spending an hour per week, per hive for inspections and any manipulation needed.
Keep your property as clean and quiet as possible. Since livestock and poultry can spread diseases to humans, be sure to take basic biosecurity measures to minimize the occurrence and spread of diseases. Treat your animals to the best living conditions possible — and make sure they receive regular veterinary care.
Build community around your animals by inviting your neighbors to meet your animals and share your harvest. By minimizing noise and smells, following applicable laws, and developing open communication with your neighbors, you can go a long way in making your animal agriculture project a success.
Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or delve deeper into her internal musings at InstantLo.