Nebraska is no stranger to livestock. Cows outnumber humans by 3.5x, and three Nebraska counties are currently among the top US cattle counties (Cherry, Custer, and Holt County). However, when thinking about livestock in Nebraska, one doesn’t typically tend to picture someone’s backyard in the city. As food prices rise, and as more people become interested in both buying local and implementing sustainable food practices, owning backyard livestock has slowly risen to mainstream awareness.
What exactly is backyard livestock? What are the benefits and constrictions of raising your own food? How do you get started with them, and what are Nebraska’s resources for urban livestock owners? Find out more below.
What is backyard livestock?
Backyard livestock, is “non-traditional” animals kept for the sake of food or goods production. (This includes bees! If you’re interested in keeping bees, read our blog post on Nebraska Beekeeping!) While people are wholly familiar with growing their own fruits, vegetables, and even nuts in a city, many people hear “livestock” and think of places larger, and more distant.
In the past, it was common for people to own their own livestock, or for livestock to be raised just outside of the city. Some cities, like New York City cited that in 1867 an estimated one-half of New York’s tenement inhabitants relied solely on goats and chickens.
As modern Euclidean Zoning became the standard across the country – residential, industrial, and agricultural activities became more and more separated from each other. The practice of keeping backyard livestock dates back to the traditional keeping of smaller animals such as goats, chickens, and even bunnies (which do not provide food, but they still provide to a backyard ecosystem in ways we’ll mention later).
Why keep backyard livestock?
Keeping backyard livestock has a host of benefits. There are neighborhoods in many cities that struggle with food insecurity, which is the lack of access to healthy foods either due to proximity, cost, or transportation infrastructure.
One way to combat food insecurity, is to grow or raise your own food. Livestock such as poultry (chickens, ducks, turkey, etc), goats, and bunnies are resources that can be added to neighborhoods and communities to increase their resiliency.
They can also easily work in conjunction with either personal or community gardens and food forests. Plants and weeds grow, and animals can eat these weeds, or even eat pests which affect the garden. Animals produce waste, which acts as fertilizer for the garden (This is where rabbits come in – a single doe and her offspring can produce an entire ton of manure in a single year!).
Issues with Urban Livestock
Of course, raising livestock is still a practice which requires skill and knowledge of both the animals and your environment. Raising animals of any size requires time and effort, as well as the proper space and resources to care for the wellbeing of the animals.
Potential downsides include the fact that they are, ultimately, animals – there could be noise, odor, and disease concerns. In city code, the term nuisance (while it varies between cities) is given to something that affects the community in terms of health, safety, common decency, or essentially anything that interferes with the quality of life of others. The reason that animal care requires so much attention is because when they are sick, or their environment is dirty, they can harm the wellbeing of community members. ALWAYS be sure to check your city code to see what qualifies as a nuisance!
Below is a list of questions to ask before you decide if your situation is compatible with livestock management!
- Cost – Be sure that you are ready for the cost of owning even one animal, as you’ll need to pay for medication, housing, and more. Animal husbandry requires an investment before you see the returns.
- Space – Make sure that you have space that matches the requirements of city and local ordinances. Contact city or county officials if you are unsure of these requirements.
- Waste Management – One benefit of backyard livestock is that their manure can be used as fertilizer for a backyard garden. However, if you are not using this manure, you must be able to dispose of it somewhere else.
- Time – While smaller animals may not require as much time as larger animals, you must still be prepared to upkeep and care for the animals that you keep.
- Planning – What is your plan? Can you work with anyone in your community to either request information, or perhaps even work alongside them on a larger project with your animals? Can you plan your garden or yard in a way that provides feed for the animals, or do they have access to forage?
Keeping urban livestock in Nebraska
So, what are options for urban homesteaders in Nebraska cities? Cities such as Omaha and Lincoln allow for the keeping of small animals and fowl, excluding roosters (many cities will prohibit roosters). Your city ordinance is the go-to guide when making decisions about what animals work best for you. Some cities have limits on larger animals, and many will also have stipulations about disease and pest management.
Many cities have listed in their code a section for “ANIMALS,” which is inclusive of not just pets, but also livestock. The majority will also require a permit, which states that the enclosure you have built for your animals is adequate. Be sure to also check with county ordinances, and any neighborhood codes in your area.
So, where do you get started? Contacting city officials is a great start to make sure you get all the paperwork required. Another great resource would be to reach out to the University of Nebraska Extension nearest to you.
Nebraska is known for its livestock, and many backyards are rife with resources that can be used for these animals. Backyard livestock is a perfectly viable way to localize your food production and consumption. Because of zoning, it is critical that you get approval for any building or animals you bring onto your property. Once you have that approval, though, owning backyard livestock can be a gift that keeps giving.
AmeriCorps Conservation Director
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