Back yard farming; ensure you have all the information to begin

Dr Alexis Gullett from Animal Medical Center

This week's case is a little different format from most. Instead of discussing a particular case, we will be discussing a new/old phenomenon that is occurring in many urban areas right now - the backyard farmer. Many people have started raising vegetables and other edible plants for many reasons, including cost savings and local sourcing of their foods. However, many municipalities have started allowing small production animals as well. The most common are rabbits for meat and fiber; goats for meat, milk, and fiber; and chickens for meat and eggs. While each individual species has its own particular needs, many of the basics are similar.

First and foremost, finding out what your particular area allows is most important. In some areas, the county will allow something but the city or town will not, so you must know exactly whose laws you fall under. At that point, you can assemble all the instructions for permitting. In some areas, you must only submit your intention, but in others, you must not only apply for a permit, but show that you have proper housing and a valid veterinary relationship for the physical animals you wish to have animals. These rules can vary from one locality to another, and even from one species to another within the same locality, so being certain of the laws is very important. There are often also rules as to how many total "legs" you can have, so while you may be able to have 6 chickens, you can only have 3 goats or 2 goats and 2 chickens. Finding out what and how much you can have may dictate the rest of the project.

Secondly, researching what all is needed thoroughly before starting any project. How much area do you need? Will you need an enclosure? What about waste management? In many places, you cannot just dump animal waste into the storm sewers. Or if you can, it can only be so much per time period. How will you handle waste in the warm summer months? Do you have adequate ventilation? What about protection from predators? What will you be feeding, and how will that change over the lifetime of the animal? Do you have a place for what all is produced? Will you actually drink goat's milk? How many eggs will you use in a day, since each chicken will produce about one per day? What will you do during vacations? Do you have someone to care for the animals? They will need cleaned, fed, and in the case of laying chickens, eggs collected daily, no matter how you feel or what your plans are. And most importantly, do you have an exit plan - what will you do when the animals get old or you are no longer interested in production? These animals, even though used for production of food, still deserve the best care possible while you have them. If they are sick, can you medicate them? Are you willing to spend money on them? Are you willing to discard the products (milk, eggs) during the treatment time and for the appropriate time afterward as determined by law? And in the case of meat production, where will you have them processed? Will you do it yourself? Do you have a facility in mind? Are they permitted to process the animals you have?

Lastly, is your neighbourhood one that will appreciate the endeavour you are considering undertaking? Even if something is legal, not every area is well-suited for it. Sometimes a simple consultation with the neighbors can go a long way to being sure everyone understands what you are doing and why. And in some cases, you may actually find some like-minded people who will join forces with you, sharing some cost and chores in a co-op fashion, making things more enjoyable for everyone. It also helps with keeping other people's animals out of your yard, as dogs and even cats can cause quite a bit of damage, from stressing out your animals and lowering production to destruction of your animals.

These goats, named Tulip and Buttercup, give their owner milk daily, and at some point will also give them some fiber. Though goats can be used for meat as well, most people choose not to simply because goat meat is best around 4-5months of age, and the repeated raising of young goats can be stressful. These owners have small children and the adults have some health concerns that have made them strongly consider limiting their consumption of commercial foods. This is one reason some families have for raising their own food.

These chickens are roughly 2 months old. This family will be using them mainly for egg production. They won't start laying for another 2-4 months, so there is some monetary expenditures before you will even start benefiting from your animals. They still need daily care, however. This family has always raised chickens throughout generations, so they are simply carrying on a family tradition, albeit on a smaller scale.

Raising your own food can be a wonderful experience. You know exactly what went into production, there is no worry that things have been contaminated, and you have the feeling of a job well done. You have contributed much less waste to the world, and have the most locally-sourced food available. But it can also be stressful, as you are responsible for the well-being of that animal while it is alive, as well as for providing it the most humane death possible. Done properly, with the appropriate time and effort, you too can be part of the new urban farming movement.