Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Sub"Urban Animals ... In the News (in a good way :)

According to this article on, Deus Ex Machina and I are hard-core urban farmers, because we raise animals (chickens and rabbits) for meat.

The funny thing about seeing this article today is that I had planned to talk about suburban "farm" animals. I did a post about it some time last year and really took a beating in the comments section over my suggestion that it was possible to raise animals for food in a suburban setting. It's funny, now, that having animals in the suburbs is starting to be more accepted. I probably wouldn't get the same reaction, if I were to post the same article today.

At the time, though, last year, before the "official" crash, people were still on the consumer train, and they didn't want to think about ways to keep animals. Things have certainly changed, it seems. While it's true that there are suburban areas where animal numbers are limited (Kate, in Pennsylvania, is limited to six outside animals - right, Kate?), or where certain animals can not be kept at all, there are alternatives to the chicken coop in the backyard.

I addressed a few of them in my original post.

At the time that I wrote my original post, I suggested that if I couldn't have chickens outside in my yard, but I lived in a "typical" suburban home with a garage and a basement, I would find room "inside" for my animals. Some people who commented didn't like that idea, but if you read the article, apparently, there are people who think like me, and there are entrepreneurs who've grabbed the torch and are running with it, making things like chicken diapers.

In her book, Possum Living, Dolly Freed details how she and her father raised chickens and rabbits in their basement, and in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan talks about going into a shed at Polyface Farm, where rabbits and chickens were kept, and the fact that the expected noxious fumes were not present, because the chickens rooted through the droppings under the rabbit's cages and kept everything cleaned up.

But, as I mentioned, in the original article, it doesn't have to be chickens. How about quail? They lay prolifically for about nine months, are quiet, don't take up a lot of space, and with both males and females, it can be a closed loop system (which I don't have with my chickens - no males, so no fertilized eggs). When they are "finished" laying, like all birds, they can be eaten. Pigeons are another choice for poultry that provides eggs and meat, and there are often no restrictions to keeping those types of birds, because neither are considered "farm" animals or livestock in the way that chickens, ducks and turkeys are. In fact, pigeons have been kept in urban settings for a very long time.

We have rabbits and have been raising them off and on for almost a decade. My gardens are lush and happy with the rich "fertlizer" the rabbits provide. My daughters (and all of their friends) love playing with the bunnies. Our breeders are "pets", but the offspring are food. Rabbits are easy to raise and can be kept indoors or out.

Of course, as I was informed, some places won't even allow an outside rabbit hutch, and, if I lived in one of those places, I would have kept my rabbits inside - because a town or an HOA might tell me what I can do with my lawn and how the house has to be painted, but they can not dictate to me what happens inside my house. But it doesn't have to be rabbits, either. In South America, guinea pigs (which are about the size of a small rabbit) are raised for food.

But let's be really creative. How about aquaculture? I've seen some pretty massive fish tanks in some of the suburban homes I've visited. There's no reason the fish in them have to be purely ornamental.

There are just so many options, even for those people who are convinced that there is no way they could raise meat animals (and I'm not really referring to those people who have decided that not eating meat at all is the preferred option ;).

In my opinion, the most responsible way to be an omnivore is to know the animal before it becomes meat, and the only way to do that is to know someone who raises the animals for you or to raise them yourself. Deus Ex Machina and I do both on a quarter acre suburban lot.

And Novella Carpenter makes us look like the amateurs we are with her urban farm.

I guess my point is, one shouldn't simply say a thing can not be done. Chances are that someone, some where, has found a way to do it, and the key is to think creatively, rather than simply accepting what we are told as the final word on the matter.

Oh, and laws can be changed. With regard to urban and suburban zoning restrictions and farm animals, change is happening all over the country.


  1. Uh...yeah, something like that! ;) I may make it one of my projects over the winter or next year to get our local regulations changed at the township level. It's my township that sets the limits. It may be somewhat easy to change them, or it may be a hopeless cause. I guess I'll find out...


  2. HOLY COW! Possum Living being published again? I had finally managed to snag a used copy off Paperbackswap, because my original book was loaned out and never returned.

    There is another book that out of print for years and I saw has is being published again. The used copies were going for crazy prices like $100 and more. Different subject though, a kids book. Staying at Sam's. I got a used copy on Paperbackswap of that too.

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