Knowledgebase Collection

Urban Livestock

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With interest in food security and local food systems on the rise, more and more communities are amending their animal control and zoning codes to allow the keeping of chickens, bees, miniature goats, and other nontraditional animals in residential districts.

The benefits of urban livestock include the production of fresh, local food products such as eggs, honey, and milk; the important pollination roles played by bees; and the companionship and educational aspects of keeping such animals as pets. However, potential downsides include noise, odor, and disease concerns, so appropriate regulations are important to protect communities from nuisance or public health complaints.

From this page you can search for resources that provide background, policy guidance, and examples of local regulatory standards for urban livestock from across the country. And you can filter these search results by various geographic and demographic characteristics.


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Regulating Urban Livestock

Most communities regulate residential livestock through animal codes that live outside of the land development regulations, though more jurisdictions are adding urban livestock provisions to their zoning codes. Some have adopted a comprehensive set of regulations addressing all types of farm animals, while others have focused only on one type of animal—for example, backyard chickens or bees.

When the keeping of larger farm animals such as horses and cows is allowed, it is limited to larger lots with adequate room for the stables and pastures needed to house these animals and mitigate their impacts. Greater numbers of, or smaller minimum lot sizes for, sheep and goats may be allowed based on their smaller sizes and lighter impacts. Swine (pigs) are often prohibited from residential districts altogether, though some communities allow miniature potbellied pigs to be kept as household pets.

Backyard chickens, and in some cases other fowl and pygmy (miniature) goats, are more widely permitted in residential districts. Typical ordinance provisions include limits on the number of chickens or goats per lot, minimum lot sizes (especially for miniature goats), prohibitions on keeping roosters or slaughtering chickens on-site, setbacks from property lines and neighboring structures, coop or enclosure design and construction standards, and waste disposal and feed storage requirements. Some ordinances address on-site sales of eggs, honey, or milk. In some communities, an annual license or permit is required for keeping urban livestock.

Local beekeeping standards typically establish limits on the number and location of hives based on the size of the lot or the zoning district where the bees are being kept. Many codes specify minimum distances between hives and adjacent buildings or property lines, require "flyway barriers" to prevent bees from flying to adjacent properties, and require on-site water sources to keep bees from flocking to neighboring swimming pools or bird baths. Typically, beekeepers must obtain a local permit in addition to state licensing requirements, and local governments reserve the right to inspect hives if needed.

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Support for this collection was provided by the Growing Food Connections Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68004-19894 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.