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Adventures in Urban Homesteading

Myths vs. Facts

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Myth: All goats smell bad!

Fact: Female (doe) and neutered male (wether) goats do not smell. That “goaty” smell you may be thinking of is the sole domain of un-neutered male goats (bucks). Bucks do smell tremendously bad, and they are not suitable for the city.

Goat urine is less odorous than cat urine, and it is easily absorbed into the ground or straw bedding. Goat manure is “dispensed” in small, compact pellets – similar to deer droppings. Goat manure does not smell or attract flies the way that cow and horse manure does. The pellets are easy to clean up, and can be safely composted – unlike dog or cat manure.

Myth: Goats are noisy!

Fact: Goats bleat occasionally, but the average goat bleat is quieter than the average dog bark. Also, consider this – dogs bark when someone walks by, they see a squirrel, they are defending their territory, or they’re bored. Goats do not bleat in any of these situations. The goat’s response to any threat or curiosity is to become very still and quiet.

Myth: Chickens smell bad and are filthy!

Fact: When evaluating the keeping of livestock, scale is everything. Most everyone critical of chickens in the city falls into one of two categories:

1. People who have never been around chickens and don’t know anything about how they’re raised

2. People who grew up in a rural area, in proximity to large chicken farms

Large chicken farms typically keep hundreds – if not thousands – of chickens. The travails of a commercial chicken operation have nothing in common with a small backyard flock. Chickens that are allowed to roam freely are not dirty with other chickens’ manure (as happens in crowded chicken houses). When chickens have adequate space to roam and/or the proper bedding, their manure does not build up or cause odor issues. The manure that does exist can easily be removed and composted with straw or dead leaves.

Myth: Chickens are noisy!

Fact: Hen chickens are almost always silent. They are a prey species (just like goats) and find it safer to stay quiet. Roosters are the noisy ones, and generally considered not appropriate for the city.

Myth: Chickens will attract predators!

Fact: Small predators (like foxes and raccoons) are a fact of life in the city. Outdoor cats, squirrels, and – most prominently – our garbage all ensure that predators will continue to stick around. Chickens are no more or less attractive to predators than anything else they can eat. For the chickens’ safety it is important that they be secured at night. Any chicken owner (or the neighbor of a chicken owner) who is worried about predators can use commercially available coyote urine to keep them away.

As an aside, don’t forget that every block of Denver likely contains several dead chickens right now. Don’t believe it? Go look in the dumpsters. Chicken carcasses are everywhere, ready to be foraged by urban predators. A few backyard chickens isn’t going to do much to change the predator equation in our city.

Myth: Chickens carry bird flu!

Fact: Bird flu has been with us for a long time. Wild birds carry many strains of bird flu, just as humans carry many strains of human flu. There have not been any cases of the more dangerous bird flu strain (H5N1) in the U.S. Most strains of bird flu do not infect humans, and bird flu does not pass through the air.

Myth: If you want to raise these kinds of animals, you should go live in the country!

Fact: Once again, scale is everything. What can be reasonably done on a city lot? It doesn’t make sense to raise 200 head of cattle – that is better left to country folk. But can a small flock of chickens and a couple of dwarf goats have a safe, clean home in a Denver backyard? Most definitely.

In the summer of 1996 human habitation on earth made the switch from being mostly rural to mostly urban. The majority of our population now lives in cities. The notion that city-dwellers should not have the right to produce food on their small piece of land is not only unfair, but dangerous – as it leaves urban residents vulnerable to a multitude of food safety and security concerns. While many people who live in the city may be content to purchase all of their food from stores, those that opt to pursue greater food independence (whether for financial, health, environmental, or food safety and security reasons) should be allowed to do so.

 

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