Legal and Stealthy Backyard Livestock

Our local bylaws are opposed to the keeping of livestock.  Urban farmers here have few options for raising their own proteins if they also want to be laws abiding citizens. These “pets” are exceptions to our rules: pigeons (with a fancier’s permit and restrictions), pond fish, and a single rabbit.

When I sought clarity from an officer about keeping quail which are not described in our laws or more than one rabbit, he said that what I did was only an issue if a neighbor reported me and he winked.

I took a chance and purchased three pullets, beautiful and hardy dual purpose heritage breed chickens: a Buff Orpington, a Columbian Wyandotte, and a Barred Rock, hatchery stock raised by by a nearby organic farmer.  They were quiet, too, as the experts on the interwebs told me they would be..until they began to lay. So, I got reported — but not fined, thankfully — and my chickens went to a friend’s farm. The Buff was killed by a weasel but the others are happy to free range daily now, two years later. I really miss the girls. They were fun to watch and so friendly, too.

What did I do with an empty, hubby-built coop and run? I tried Corturnix quail, of course. Those critters were very difficult to find where I live, but we came upon two trios of white birds for sale at a nearby auction. Hubby bid with enthusiasm. We paid a dear price for all six birds and carted our winnings home. Our smiles faded, however, when one by one each snowy critter began to crow. Loudly. At all times, day and night. They were not announcing eggs, they were all males, crying for a lady. We’d been had. One by one the boys were rehomed to our living room so as to avoid another report to the bylaw office, which surely would include a fine and/or court summons, I supposed.

I sold two, traded a third for an unrelated boy, and one of my dogs ate the weakest link. A month and a six hundred kilometer drive later, I had acquired four quiet females from an honest breeder. They joined my three boys in the backyard coop. When boy quail are kept busy with girls, they manage to be quiet. This ratio of boys and girls is not recommended, I really only needed one or two boys, but my run has lots of space for the teeny girls to hide.

Egg production from Corturnix quail is high. Each girl will drop a tiny delicacy almost every day. They don’t, however, use a nest of any sort, so rummaging for eggs can be a bit of a pain if the birds aren’t caged tightly. They tended to drop their eggs on the ground versus in the coop and they liked sheltered corners under the coop. This is where they tended to huddle, too. I used a Chuck-It dog ball tosser to help me retrieve eggs, its long handle reaching to tricky spaces.

Quail are also very skittish and, from my experience, don’t return home after free ranging, whether their freedom is intended or not. They are food producers, not pets with benefits. Although, when penned with other critters — I’ll get to that in a bit — they are terrific at scavenging the potentially wasted feed on the ground. They tend to spend most of their time on the ground.

When baking, three corturnix eggs make the equivalent of one large chicken egg. If you were to sell them, they may fetch a higher price than chicken eggs. Here they go for $15 per dozen, but I never sold any. I ate them. I hatched a batch in a borrowed incubator, too, but that was a disappointing experience. All but one of 18 eggs hatched, but only six survived 24 hours. I don’t know why.

To the pen I added a rescued meat rabbit. Nugget lasted a year. He likely passed from old age. He was eight. I never intended to eat him.

The corturnix quail didn’t last much longer. They have been bred for hundreds, nay thousands, of years for high egg production, not longevity. Its a good thing I didn’t get attached to them.

I did, however, get attached to Finn and Rachel, the Show King Pigeons. They are an infertile pair, sold to me by a local hobbyist. I thought they’d be happy to sit on quail eggs instead of their duds, but they kept kicking the corturnix eggs out of their nest.

Then, after much research, came the ultimate, stealthy backyard protein producer. I sourced two Muscovy hens.

Muscovy ducks, actually more closely related to geese, produce jumbo sized eggs almost as reliably as chickens and their meat, I’m told, tastes like veal. They tend to go broody, so are good for hatching all sorts of eggs. They are also very quiet. If close neighbors can’t see them or smell them, they’d likely not know they exist. My girls, Gertrude and Beatrice, are at yet another friend’s farm now while we put our house for sale.

Back to rabbits. I’m debating getting a pair of meat producers. I know they are great for urban farms. I do believe I should try rabbit meat first, though, before I make that commitment.

My point to all of this is that its possible to raise eggs and meat in even a small urban backyard depending on your local laws (or your willingness to break them). I’m experimenting.



About Us

Its important to note that my marriage is struggling and has for a number of years. We’ve just barely survived what I have dubbed “two years from hell,” during which time we lost nine family members including my father, almost lost our teenaged daughter, Hubby lost his job, and we almost lost our home to the bank. Recently we have considered separating. Our children are all independent young adults now. Why does this matter? I believe that big decisions shouldn’t be made by a married person unless their spouse is enthusiastic, too.

The idea of backyard farming has been mine for a few years now; I began planning – and taking some action –about three and a half years ago, just before our “hell” began. Although initially opposed to some of my ideas, Hubby has fully embraced them over the last few months — while on the other hand agreeing that maybe we’d be better apart — and has even taken my plans to the next level by suggesting we go “off grid” as much as possible. Perhaps this is his last ditch effort to save our relationship.

My goals are:

* Healthier food

* Learning new skills

* Increased physical activity indoors and out

* Engaging in self-reliance activities I enjoy; buying products and services locally when I don’t do it for myself

My Husband has these additional goals which would mean selling our home in the city suburbs and buying at least one acre of land in commuting distance to our full-time jobs:

* More freedom from bylaws regarding livestock, solar panels, and wind turbines

*Less dependence on a municipality for utilities

* Become mortgage free (pay cash for land and build our own small house or live in a mobile home)

Hubby says our home has only sad memories for him, so he wants to be rid of it and the mortgage. That idea is a big extreme to me, but, honestly, if we separate permanently, the house would have to be sold anyway. What do we have to lose by moving forward, together, on a plan we’re both excited about? Maybe this is the focus we need to bring us back together with passion that we once had for our children.Why do I hesitate? Hubby and I cope with stress differently. Although we share life goals, our personalities – and, therefore, the ways we go about achieving our goals – are very different. Our “two years from hell” has taken a toll on each of us. I wonder if the trials and tribulations of moving to a homesteading lifestyle on an acreage would just mean even more stress for our marriage.

Land in this area starts at $25,000 per acre with no services. Our eyes are open for appropriate land advertised online, but we may get better leads from friends who live in the counties nearby. Alternately, we may each end up in a condo of our own, me with pots of tomatoes and quail cages on the balcony and he with a solar-powered gaming system. While we see where we’ll end up calling “home”, and if that home has one or both of us living under the roof, I’m focused on my current winter activity.

I’m searching for non-gmo seeds to be ordered in January. Container gardening is my best bet, allowing for portability. I’m watching for pots I may collect, too.

I’m not a contrary person. I’m just not certain how my garden, marriage, or life, will grow from this point on.


Why homestead?

Why would this fortysomething, almost empty nester, want to attempt homesteading? Maybe I’ve played too much Hay Day. Maybe I’m overwhelmed with my working suburban mom lifestyle. Maybe I really miss my departed dad, the one who gave me the bug for working on land of one’s own and being somewhat self-reliant. The answer is probably all of the above.

I’ve done a lot of reading, thinking, and planning about it over the last three years. Now its time to take some action.

Here I’ll write about what I learn as I go and share my favorite resources.

For reference, I’m in gardening zone 3B. My starting point is a suburban 1600 sq ft home on a 1/4 acre pie lot in a cul de sac, a 15 minute commute to my day job in a windowless office. Backyard livestock is illegal here. My husband is handy. I am not.