On the chopping block in Oakland

Deregulating urban animal farming would create problems that multiply as livestock increases



What exactly is on the chopping block in Oakland these days? If one proposal goes through, it could be a live animal's neck.

Oakland recently called for public input to clarify the urban agriculture language in its planning code. There are questions about the legality of activities such as growing and selling veggies from your urban farm, which could serve our community with nutritious, local, sustainable food. The current code is unclear on the legality of many of these things, so clarifying it to allow people to grow healthy, sustainable food is a positive step forward for the city's fight against food insecurity.

One small catch.

Among other things in a 73-page report titled "Transforming the Oakland Food System" is a proposal to deregulate raising and slaughtering animals. No distinction is made between urban plant farming and urban animal farming — but the difference between the two is as blatant as the sound each respective product makes when you chop its head off.

Deregulating urban animal farming would create problems that multiply as the population of animals being farmed increases. Consider the most popular animal kept among the new wave of backyard egg farmers: the laying hen.

A backyard chicken spends its first days in a factory farm hatchery, where it is packed up with other chickens and shipped to the buyer in a box with no food or water. About half the chicks are male, and thus worthless to a backyard chicken hobbyist. Many end up at Oakland Animal Services, where they are euthanized.

New chicken hobbyists are often surprised that veterinary bills for a single chicken can average $300 a year if ailments are treated properly rather than ignored. These "free" eggs now are very expensive. Chicken food and poop attracts rodents, which causes complaints to the Health Department. After two years, the hen is "spent" and no longer gives eggs. And what to do with Chicken Little when she stops laying?

Picture a warm Saturday afternoon in mid-May. You are sitting on a lawn chair unwinding from a long week at work. Then you are jolted out of your chair — your lemonade spilling down the front of your shirt.

It's the sound of a hen on the other side of the fence suffering a botched hatchet job. "Squaaaawwwkkk!" Welcome to Oakland — the slaughterhouse with glass walls.

According to according to a 2006 Oakland Food System Assessment by the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, approximately 9,000 acres are needed to feed 30 percent of Oakland's population using vegetable-based farming. But once you include urban meat with your veggie garden, the land needed to feed that same 30 percent of Oakland residents explodes to 19,000 acres. So if all our potential land can only provide 30 percent of our food, do we really need to create more meat, eggs and dairy?

Chickens, goats and rabbits make great companions. But for growing sustainable, local and organic food, let's tell Oakland loud and clear: think about chard instead. 

Ian Elwood is an animal rescuer and volunteers with Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, the Central Valley Chapter of House Rabbit Society and is a former volunteer at Oakland Animal Services. He also works a day job as web producer at International Rivers.



that NPR report did not conclude that consumption of local organic grass fed beef and/or free range chickens is determintal to human health. They were talking about a drug for really sick people.
Vegetarian diets are neccessarily healthy; most people on them end up enemic or even with diabetes. These results of iron deficency and the sugar addiction most so called vegans have.
factory farm meats and fast food are the enemy to human health.
these PETA types have no real power, otherwise the industrial-food-complex would not exist.
They can only get mike vick put in jail.

Posted by Guest on May. 30, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

Dear Editor
I was dismayed to find the anti urban-livestock piece included on your editorial page this week (Bay Guardian.May 25, 2011).

Not only was the piece inflammatory by design it contained misleading information, promoted by a vocal minority. Home-scale urban livestock operations are a vital move in the right direction for urban sustainability. Not only is it a wonderful ooportunity to re-connect to the food web and have delicious organic eggs, milk or meat, animals close the nitrogen loop and promote healthy topsoil for organic gardening through their contribution of fertilizer. Raising livestock is an ancient human activity which can be appropriately done with some animals in the city, without any greater impact to the nioeghborhood than keeping a dog or cat. In particular, goats, rabbits, chickens and quail can be managed by methods that promote the health of both the animals and the people who tend them. For meat eaters the most ethical way to go is to raise and butcher your own animals. Even grass-fed, free-range animals raised on a commercial scale do not get the individual attention, care and quality of life that a few backyard hens do. We are at a moment in history where we need to bring our food production closer to home. We have the intelligence and resources as modern people to mitigate any dangers that might come from raising urban livestock, by implementing policy and education to support appropriate standards for care and maintenance.

Now to address the misleading aspects of Ian Elwoods article:
1. No one is talking about endorsing keeping roosters in the city or completely de-regulating urban livestock policy. Most of us who are pro-livestock want to see guidelines that let people know what is appropriate.
2. Most people embarking on their chicken adventure are informed enough to know that roosters are not allowed. They know not to buy "straight run" chicks where roosters are included. At any rate most people do not want to start with 25 birds (minimum for straight run purchases from a hatchery) so they buy from a local feed store or off Craiglslist where it is possible to buy hens only.
3. If someone wants to spend $300 on a vet visit for their chicken, that is their business. This is not a real reason to prevent people from having their chickens and fresh eggs.
4. Butchering animals when done correctly is noiseless. The writer's comments are intended to be inflammatory and don't reflect the reality of what most neighbors would experience.
5. Keeping urban livestock, even if included in Oakland Food Policy is still going to be the exception, not the norm. Animals are a commitment and it is only ever going to be a small percentage of the population who wishes to embrace the farming lifestyle in the city. Thus the numbers on the acreage to feed people is irelevant. What people wish to do with their own 5000 sq feet should be their own business, as long as it is not creating undue noise, odor or health risk to themselves or their neighbors.
6. As someone offering education in the field of urban sustainability my experience is that people who want to keep urban livestock tend to be those who care more, not less. They want to know what is allowed, what is appropriate and should they have to butcher want to know how to do it in the most humane manner. Of course there are exceptions, but there are also dog and cat owners who abuse their right to keep animals, and who create public nuisance with their barking dog and smelly poo that they refuse to clean from the sidewalk. At least goat, rabbit and chicken poop can be composted and last I checked no one has called to complain that my rabbits are too loud.

This writer, Ian Ellwood, is grasping at straws. What is not being told here is that this person is an animal rights activist, on a moral campaign, who believes that any form of animal husbandry is wrong, except keeping animals as pets. As humans we now have a long history of animal domestication. In the modern world we have become disconnected from what this means. Good husbandry is a partnership that benefits both animal and human. Getting out meat and eggs in sterile containers from the supermarket lets us close our eyes to the cruelty of the neat industry. One way to bring back humanity to animal husbandry is to bring the animals back to our home-places. Making it illegal for people to choose this option is not the answer. What we need is good policy and education.

Posted by BeeBlume on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

Thank you for saying so gracefully what I wish I could.

Posted by Oakland Resident on Jun. 03, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

I like how a few nut jobs suddenly want to commune with animals and their feces within the city limits means that laws should change just for them. Of course these are the people with enough spare time to lobby at city council meetings. Get a job.

Posted by Rene on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

Why the sudden concern on your part about people who want to "commune with animals and their feces within the city limits"?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

ewhat is so noble about getting to know an animal on a personal level, then killing it? I find it disturbing that people are really excitted about the idea of killing an animal. Most people I know go to the grocery store and buy meat, but they are freaked out by the idea of killing an animal.

That is a GOOD THING. It is just weird that all of these rich people (MARK ZUCKERBERG) are killing animals for fun now. How is this different than a redneck shooting deer for fun? You don't need these animals for food, it is just a hobby!!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 10:33 am

"people are really excitted about the idea of killing an animal"
"killing animals for fun"

Where did you find evidence of this?
You just made it up, didn't you.
That makes you a liar, and not a very smart one.
Nice try at emotional manipulation with the "rednecks" and "rich people".
My guess is that most people are inclined to side with rednecks and rich people though, if the only other choice is some arrogant lying asshole who wants to dictate their own personal rules of acceptable behavior for those around them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

ha ha, you resorted to cursing. big baby

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

Novella Carpenter commented in her own blog that it cost $25 to raise a rabbit. An average dressed rabbit is perhaps 5 lbs.
I can buy a whole dressed 5 lb chicken for $5 within 10 minutes walk of her property. It makes no sense from any economic model to raise your own animals for meat and it is certainly NOT the answer for Oakland's poor.

Novella Carpenter wrote in her own blog that she had rats, wild dogs, and possums to deal with because of her animals.
She wrote how she beat a marauding possum to death with a shovel.
Sorry, but I don't want to have to deal with vermin with a shovel because some nutjob neighbor wants to play urban farmer.
Oakland is a highly urbanized and congested area. It is not the countryside.

Carpenter wrote that she knew it was illegal to sell meat and dairy.
I wonder what would happen to Novella's farm if someone got sick from tainted meat or dairy from her property...
I wonder why the city has not prosecuted her for selling unregulated meat and dairy.

I live in Oakland and do not want to live next door to some whackadoo raising pigs, goats, rabbits, chickens, or any other farm animals so they can get in touch with their inner farmer.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

Animals are my friends, and I don't eat my friends.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Posted by Guest on Jun. 09, 2011 @ 10:12 am

Meat is the dead body of someone that wanted to live.

Posted by Ruth on Jun. 23, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

yes, Oakland has no codes to regulate goats, sheep and pigs. The health and safety committee put forth a proposal in May 2004, to prohibit sheep, goats, and pigs on Oakland property less than one acre. When the city council voted on the Ordinance in Oct 2005, they voted for ...no roosters and to limit dogs to 3 per household and these dogs needed a license. The pigs, goats, and sheep were dropped and I have yet to get any explaination from anyone at the City of Oakland as to why. You can find all this on the Internet....or in the City of Oakland records.
I have been living next door to a herd of goats, upward to ten goats...they have been bred, sold, milked for cheese making purposes. At the end of March I listened to one goat cry out for seven hours during the night..until it died.
I would like to know what percentage of home owners in Oakland are interested in this "popular trend" ....less than 1%??
As a homeowner, I did not sign up to live next door to an animal farm.
I am opposed to farm animals in residential neighborhoods. We live in a densely populated area....farm animals need a lot of space and the people who keep them are doing so for their own selfish reasons.
Interesting enough, we need to license our dogs and have a limit of 3 per household but no license is needed for goats, sheep, or pigs and you can have as many as you want as long as they "appear to be clean."
Currently animal control has NO codes to address these issues.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2011 @ 11:55 pm