Mooo-ving on In: Raising Backyard Chickens and Other Urban Livestock

Chickens, rabbits, goats and even cows are finding their way into our urban backyards. Add small livestock breeds to become even more food secure.

| November 2015

  • Raising animals in cities and suburbs helps make the best possible use of underutilized resources.
    Photo by Stuart Bla
  • Sharon Astyk shows readers how to turn the challenge of living with less into settling for more happiness, security and peace of mind in "Making Home."
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

In the face of ecological and economic crises, living more simply, cost-effectively and gracefully may be the most urgent project of all. Making Home (New Society Publishers, 2012) by Sharon Astyk demonstrates that the new good life is within reach, exploring how to save money and use fewer resources in every aspect of our lives, all while preserving more for future generations.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Making Home.

Despite the emergence of backyard chickens, I think most of us think of “livestock” as something that belongs on farms, that lives way out in the country. That’s a comparatively recent point of view — both the US and Canada have long traditions of urban livestock raising. In fact, raising animals in cities and suburbs can help us make the best possible use of underutilized resources, including lawns, marginal weeds and food scraps. More of us need to bring small animals into our lives.

Meat, milk and eggs are problematic in our society because of ethical considerations — most of them are raised in factory-farm conditions, usually by feeding animals grain that could be used for human consumption. If we take as basic premises that we should and must eat less meat, eat only meat raised ethically and also, in order to feed a hungry world, raise our animal products with little or no grain suitable for human consumption, it becomes clear that pasture raising on marginal lands that are steep, erodible, rocky or wet in the countryside and raising meat, egg and dairy animals in cities on a small scale on food wastes are the two best options.

Many city dwellers grow gardens, and it would be wrong to understate their importance — they  provide caloric and nutritional benefits, allow people access to high-value, high-flavor foods they might not be able to afford, and can provide some calorically dense vegetables and even a few grains like sweet potatoes, potatoes, popcorn, etc. We know that urban gardening can make an enormous difference in a city — for example in Paris in the nineteenth century, 3,600 acres of garden plots produced 100,000 tons of vegetables, more than the city itself could consume. In 1944, US Victory gardens produced as much produce as all the country’s produce farms combined — half the nation’s total. So yes, as part of an urban aggregate, your five raised beds make a huge difference.

But add livestock and the picture of urban food security gets much richer. Those weeds growing in the vacant lots can be eaten by miniature goats or rabbits — cut an armful as you walk by. Those gardens require manures, and most urbanites lack a place for safe composting of human waste, so rabbit and poultry manures are essential to sustainable gardening.


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