Urban Homesteading’s Dark Side
The Trend in Backyard Chickens and Goats has Left Rescues Overrun with Abandoned Livestock
Wayne Geiger fields up to 10 calls per week about hens and roosters in need of new homes. When Geiger founded Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary in 2002, most of the calls he received involved horses, sheep and cattle that were victims of neglect or cruelty. There were almost no requests to help chickens. Geiger blames the increased demand on the popularity of urban farming.
For many urban agrarians, chickens and goats are the perfect addition to a backyard farm, providing eggs and milk to complement bumper crops of tomatoes and peas. But when the novelty of having a chirping chick wears off or adorable kids turn into grownup goats that eat the landscaping, the animals are often surrendered to rescue groups or abandoned.
As urban homesteading continues its rise, city backyards are booming with agrarian dreams: chickens peck near privacy fences, milk-producing goats bleat greetings to overflying airplanes, and tomato and pea plants stretch toward the smoggy sun. But coupled with these well-intentioned back-to-the-earth efforts is a dark side, says E Magazine’s Jodi Helmer, as the farm animals we bring to the city get short shrift.
Animal rescue centers like Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary near Salem, Oregon; the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York; and Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minnesota—who has experienced a 780 percent increase in rescue requests over the last five years—do their best to care for animals turned out by their owners, but resources are scarce. “Most urban shelters were not designed to house livestock,” Stephen Zawistowski, executive vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tells Helmer, leaving them vulnerable to euthanasia.
Urban goat ownership will likely increase as cities like Minneapolis aim to overturn ordinances banning goats within city limits, joining towns including Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Charlottesville, Virginia.