Little Livestock for Urban and Suburban Gardens

Sharon February 12th, 2009

For most people with a medium sized yard, a little livestock will allow you to do a little more with your space than you can probably do without them.  It isn’t a perfect equation, of course, they take up space, cost money and consume food.  But often, the net return, the net pleasure of the experience, and the quality of the food, manure and environment means you get more than you put in.  One of the most important things you can do is keep records, so you know that you are getting more back than you put in.

When you get livestock, however, you need to ask yourself some questions.

 1. What do I really expect from them?  Am I being realistic?  - There usually is no perfect creature out there.  The perfect goat, the perfect chicken breed - maybe they exist, maybe not, but what really matters are your expectations.

2. Am I a livestock person? Animals require your attention every day.  When it is freezing out, the rabbits may need their water replaced 3 or 4 times a day. The chickens molt and stop laying.  Everything escapes occasionally and has to be chased around.  Even if you plan to eat an animal, that’s no excuse (in fact, IMHO, it is less excuse) for not keeping it warm, safe, healthy and well cared for during its life.  Don’t get animals you don’t plan to take real and proper care of.

3. Am I prepared to put it out of its misery?  Peter Bane, permaculturist extraordinaire once answered a question by saying “If you’ve got livestock, sooner or later you’ll have deadstock.”  And sooner or later, you are going to have an animal who is suffering, or that you want to eat, or that needs to be removed from your breeding, and you will have to kill it, or get someone to.  That is, even the most ardent vegetarian may have to kill an animal that is suffering.  If you aren’t able to do this, or find someone who is, think hard about whether it is a good idea.  IMHO, our animals deserve lives with as little pain as possible - and that means that relieving their pain when it gets to be too much is part of our job.

4. Am I ready to raise meat animals?  You don’t have to eat the animals you raise - hens, quail, angora rabbits… these animals can be productive pets.  But if you are going to raise a meat animal, you have to be ready to butcher them - or find a pro.  Learn how to do it before you need to, and make sure you will be able to do it humanely.

5. Think about how they will be fed if the supply lines get cut.  If you are planning on raising chickens for long term food self-sufficiency, great.  But ask yourself where their food will come from if the feed store closes near you.   Think about alternatives. Moreover, my feeling is that as much as possible, our meat should not compete with land planted to human food plants (grains, legumes) but act as a supplement to it - ethical meat eating begins, IMHO, from the point that says “I want to put a few grains and beans into my animals as possible, and make the best possible use of space and plants that people can’t eat or grow human food on.”  Your animals should be eating grass and scraps whenever possible.  But to do that, you  may need to do some real research on optimal and healthy diets with supplementation for your animals - make sure you know what you are doing. 

So let’s start with the little livestock, of the sort suitable to apartments, backyards, etc…  Basically, this post will only cover livestock not bigger than a breadbox ;-).

- Worms.  Even urban dwellers can have worms - I know someone who made a bench out of his worm bin.  You’d never know you were sitting on top of 20,000 wigglers (this is the sort of thing that would have filled me with glee when I was a kid!).  Worm keeping basics here:

Pluses of worms: Great, great compost, those who can’t compost outside in winter or in apartments can make good use of their kitchen scraps, provides great liquid fertilizer (worm juice) and great solid fertilizers (castings), kinda cute.

Minuses: If you overfeed, you can get fruit flies, if you don’t like worms, you have worms in your house ;-).

 - Rabbits. Rabbits are generally considered pets, so your local zoning is not likely to give you problems with them.  They are quiet, easy to raise and care for, and easy keepers - they can live mostly on marginal weeds and a little, quite cheap, supplemental feed.  They make great little lawn mowers if you tractor them.  You essentially can choose between (assuming you are keeping them for something other than the mowing and manure and cuteness factor) between angora rabbits for fiber or meat rabbits for meat.

Fiber info:

Meat Rabbit info:

Pluses of Fiber rabbits: Friendly, adorable, you can make hats and socks out of their fiber, they aren’t as good diggers as most other rabbits, and can probably be kept in a bottomless bunny tractor, great manure, fiber is stunningly warm.

Minuses of Fiber rabbits: You really need to be willing to spend time once a week or so grooming them, they need more protein than meat rabbits, so you might need to feed more pellets, they can get wool block (they lick the wool and it blocks their intestines) or infected areas if you let them mat up, not quite as enthusiastic breeders (at least mine aren’t) as other rabbits, not good in hot climates where they overheat easily.

 Pluese of meat rabbits; One of the most productive converters of food people can’t eat to food people can in the world, delicious meat (yes, once I did not keep kosher), can provide a partial solution to the pet food dilemma for cats and dogs, quiet, easy to butcher.  Rabbit manure is great for the garden, they breed like rabbits.  The hides have value as well.

Minuses of meat rabbits: They are cute, and you may have trouble butchering them.  Rabbit meat is extremely lean, which means that you and your pets will need some other source of fat, they do need some extra attention in warm weather, must be kept in bottomed pens  if tractored.

Pigeons/Doves - Many city dwellers have pigeons anyway ;-).  Others keep them for messaging or pleasure.  But you can eat them, or train them to carry message or even race them (although the latter seems outside the usefulness focus of this course) - and you can keep them in coops on rooftops and in backyards.  Most can be let out to forage and will require only a small amount of grain from you.  They don’t provide a lot of meat per bird, but they are prolific (duh ;-)), and their manure is good for the garden.

Pros of pigeons - Pleasant cooing noises, suitable to highly urban settings, gentle, easily handled, easy to raise with minimum investment, provide meat, with extensive training some communications capacity and manure.  They can eat bread scraps and waste grain from

Cons of pigeons - Some people and municipalities don’t like pigeons and strongly discourage them, they can be messy, they are a prey of many other birds, so expect to lose some.

More about raising pigeons:

Quail - Quail are very small, tasty game birds that can be raised in cages in urban spaces quite easily.  They are prolific egg producers - 20 tiny quail can keep a family in eggs using much less space than chickens and less feed.  Some people who can’t eat chicken eggs can eat quail eggs.  You can also eat the quail, although they are very small - and there are markets for them at upscale restaurants.

Pros of Quail: Very small, very adaptable to cage culture, great egg layers, kinda cute.

Cons of Quail - They are small - a fair bit of work to butcher for what you get.  They rarely hatch their own eggs, so you will either have to incubate them with an electric or gas incubator, or put them under a broody hen.  If you don’t have a broody hen, that means your flock depends on electricity.  Some areas are hostile to gamebirds in zoning.

Guinea Pigs/Cuy: While most of us associate these with childhood pets, in many parts of South America, Cuy is a commonly eaten meat.  Because they are traditional pets, you aren’t likely to have much trouble keeping them.  They are cheap, and mostly odorless even indoors, as long as you take decent care of them.  Their meat is said to be extremely sweet and tasty, and a UN FAO study found that raising guinea pigs for meat in South America provided more protein for less cost and effort than raising pigs or goats.  20 females and 2 males can keep a family in reasonable supplemental meat.  The major problem may be the freakout factor, since they are so associated with pet culture.  Do not get the long haired, fuzzy beatrix potter type, since these will not gain weight as well.

Pros - Very tasty meat, easy to keep, cheap to get started with, lovely pelts, high in protein, good manure, prolific breeders.

Cons - Vulnerable to disease, require good ventilation and housing, so cute they may be hard to butcher, associations with pets hard to break, low fat meat requiring supplementation, can be loud at night if kept indoors, more difficult to butcher than rabbits, but still not that hard.

 More on home guinea pig culture:

Chickens: The uber-backyard livestock. Who doesn’t like chickens?  They are even trendy!  3 Good layers will give you an average of 2 eggs a day year round, heavily weighted to spring and summer.  They can forage about half their diet, if given the right one, and can live fairly well on urban restaurant scraps.  They come in many sizes, tolerance to heat and cold and appearances.  Good for vegetarians, since they can be kept for eggs only.  Banties have been known to be kept in apartments, but this isn’t ideal.

Pros: Familiar, eggs are nutritionally brilliant, hens are pleasant to be around, you don’t need a rooster since they can be acquired in most localities, tasty, familiar meat, friendly, easy to accomodate, great manure once composted, will eat plenty of bugs, do great in chicken tractors.

Cons: Not all breeds equally good at foraging, some localities prohibit them, if you aren’t feeding them mostly on scraps and forage, you’ll be feeding human food (grains) to critters, which isn’t that efficient, can be a garden pest, can scratch the ground down too far if kept on a small piece of land.

Lots of resources on backyard chicken keeping - here’s just one:

 Fish: One of the most exciting ways of producing small scale protein in a backyard is aquaponics, which involves fish farming and using the nutrient rich water to then grow plants. Tilapia, the traditional fish, are delicious and have the best feed conversion ratio of any animal protein.  You can do a full scale indoor version info here: or you can do backyard fish farming, where fish are raised in stock tanks and the water is used to fertilize garden plants. 

Pros of fish culture: Makes superb use of resources, fish has powerful nutritional benefits, can bring fish to inland areas with contaminated fresh water, helps the garden enormously, fish are probably the easiest animal to slaughter.

Cons of fish culture: Indoor aquaponics is extremely energy and resource inefficient, most small fish operations will not be self-reproducing and depend on farmed spawn.

More here:

Bees: If there is one single kind of small livestock keeping that I’d love to see expand, it would be beekeeping.  The more small beekeepers using low input practices, the better off we are in the face of Colony Collapse Disorder and the destruction of native pollinators.  One study found that urban bees actually do better than rural ones, because they don’t face monocultures, nor come into contact with so much agricultural spraying.  We lose a lot from inadquate pollination - we really all need to play a part here.  Plus, there’s the honey, the wax… what’s not to love?

Pros of bees: Improve your garden crop production, provide a supply of sweets, can be a source of income even with a few hives, suited to urban life, can provide beeswax for candles, we desperately need more bees.

Cons of bees: Vulnerable to disease, bears and agricultural spraying, can be expensive to get started, tough on the allergic, some places limit zoning, some people are scared of them.

Beekeeping basics:

Frogs and Turtles: All over asia, wherever paddy rice is cultivated, people eat frogs, and they really do taste like chicken.  If you have wetlands or a pond, you could consider raising frogs for meat.    The edible part is the legs.  Turtles are also quite edible, and can be raised in backyard ponds.  The problem I see is this - all the information I was able to find on the web involves starting from native species you harvest from your pond, but many frogs and turtles are endangered, and I don’t want people taking them out of the wild. So until/unless someone here can find a reliable source for farmed turtle and frog starts or eggs, I’m staying out this one.  Anyone want to help out?

Ducks: A couple of ducks are incredibly endearing.  Many ducks are extremely disgusting ;-).  Generally speaking, my suggestion for backyard producers would be to raise a couple of khaki campbell ducks for eggs, rather than any large number of meat ducks, because they are messy and trash the ground under them.  A few ducks, however, are charming, funny, great garden buddies (they love slugs) and can live mostly on your scraps.  They can produce as many eggs as chickens, and are far friendlier.  The eggs are amazing for baking. 

Pros of Ducks: Cuteness and amusement factor, eggs, delicious dark meat, good fat quantity (could be useful), superb slug eaters, will not do as much damage to garden cros as chickens, can be used to till up ground.

Cons of Ducks: Even as animals go, they poop everywhere.  They will trash a small pond rapidly, so make sure they have a dedicated duck water source, they do need a pond or at least reliable water source, can fly, will till up ground that you don’t want tilled.

More about Ducks:

 Remember, whatever animals (if any) you choose to have, you need to design them into your life and landscape - the happiest combinations of creatures are a creature that fills an ecological niche and a person who really thinks that critter is cool and wonderful.  Think about how these animals can be integrated into your life. 

Your design strategies should include manure management, plenty of space to give the animal a good life, and a plan for its whole lifecycle.  There are lots of ways to use animals to get the most possible return - for example, chicken runs along the edge of the garden will keep grass and weeds from penetrating, rabbit housing can be put over worm composting, animals can be used to clean up garden wastes, till ground, fertilize it.  And, they can bring happiness.

Ok, next time: Critters bigger than a breadbox.


21 Responses to “Little Livestock for Urban and Suburban Gardens”

  1. DEEon 12 Feb 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Would love to see more people getting into beekeeping…and yes, it can be done in the city. We live in the suburbs when first married and an elderly gentleman down the street had bees. My DH was always interested so he helped him with his honey harvest and got his first colony in return. Over 40 years of marriage there have always been bees! At one time even working as a bee inspector for the state of MI. Now we are fortunate to live in the Ozarks and able to keep healthy colonies with minimal effort. Surrounded by thousands of acres of national forest and little farming…mostly just alot of cows! I think honey will be a valuable trade item in the coming years…already we are sold out earlier each year and customers wanting large quantities instead of a squeeze bear. Best way to get started is to read,read,read. Then find a beekeeper that will show you the ropes. Then read somemore. My DH has started alot of beekeepers along the way. DEE who dons a suit and helps keep the records….

  2. Kate in NE NYon 12 Feb 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Wow, what a list Sharon!

    I know I am too impulsive a person to have responsibility for livestock. I love to jump in my car with my dog and take off.

    But I think I found my niche: a backyard orchard. I ordered five fruit trees to start.

    I enjoy reading about what other people do with their property and lives, so it’s fun to hear about the livestock anyway!

  3. ChristyACBon 12 Feb 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I so long to have bees, however my city won’t let us have even a single pet chicken and no bees. In fact, my insurance company would drop me like a hot potato from my homeowner coverage if I had bees. Before leaping, people really should check these things. However unfair, there it is.

    However, I do have a river running behind my little hidden urban paradise that has geese for 3 seasons and always a few duck pairs. I try to lure them to my yard during non-gardening season to clean up the watery weeds. They do a fine job! Wish I could keep ‘em. :)

  4. Annetteon 12 Feb 2009 at 1:49 pm

    great post. I am zoned against chickens, though I may have a few in a tractor anyway. =P Rabbits and guinea are also a possibility. Would love to have bees and we are not zoned against them. have not check with insurance - I am almost afraid too!

  5. graceon 12 Feb 2009 at 1:51 pm

    this morning, an email from Organic Consumers Association:
    USDA has been working for 5 years to pass a rule to require all farms and ranches to be registered in a federal data base under the National Animal Identification System
    setting the stage to identify and track each and every livestock and poultry animal owned by family farmers, hobby farmers, homesteaders and pet owners.
    IS March 16th.
    grace New Mex

  6. Johnon 12 Feb 2009 at 2:09 pm

    We are looking for some land for just this reason. I think we can grow enough food for our family, but we are unable to have any animals, except cats and dogs here in our small rural downtown area. VERY frustrating.

  7. debraon 12 Feb 2009 at 2:15 pm

    recently i started looking in to keeping quail. according to a local breeder, they’re quite easy to raise and can be kept in adequately sized cages in an enclosed space (such as my garage) so without even trying, i’ve found space for both quail and rabbits. guinea pigs are also a possibility (once you’re over the ewwww factor) however, all my research says you shouldn’t start with pet store quality stock and i’ve yet to find a source for food quality animals. i saw a great documentary about cavies as a meat source. pens can be kept nearly any where for a minimal cost. definitely worth exploring.

  8. ctdaffodilon 12 Feb 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Alpacas -
    I don’t know if you can eat them - but they have great fiber and if you have an acre you can keep up to 6. And 6 alpacas worth of fiber is quite a bit and commands a pretty penny. Plus they are soft and more friendly than llamas.

  9. WNC Observeron 12 Feb 2009 at 2:33 pm

    RE: That USDA database. I suspect that the feds are worried about avian flu, and want to be able to quickly round up and destroy any livestock in an outbreak area. Something to think about when getting into poultry.

    RE: Bees. Thanks for mentioning these, Sharon. I would suggest that anyone interested in beekeeping find their local beekeeper’s club (call the local extension agent, they’ll know about them) and get involved. Anyone living in bear country MUST protect their hives with an electric fence. Letting a bear get access to your hives is, IMHO, the exact equivalent as letting a fox get access to your hen house. I’ve never heard anyone in my beekeeper’s club even mention insurance as an issue; I would suggest trying to keep your hive as much out of sight and inaccessible to small children as possible, just to avoid unfortunate incidents. Zoning is an issue for some - not absolutely prohibited, but hives must be 150 ft away from neighbors, which is too restrictive for many urban lots. Not an issue in my small town, fortunately.

    Also: You didn’t include having a dairy goat on your list, but that might be a possibility for some people. They are not really much bigger than a large dog, I see a few people in our area with them. You are pushing your luck if your town has zoning, but as long as you keep it from getting away (good luck!) and generating complaints, you might be able to get away with it. A single Nubian produces a very considerable amount of milk, from what I understand.

  10. Green Assassin Brigadeon 12 Feb 2009 at 2:48 pm


    I’ve always like alpacas but the N.A. prices for them never justify the amount of fibre you will yield in several life times. It’s much like the Emu craze, people want them to buy them with the expectation of selling the Cria for a huge profit to some other unsupsecting fool in a pyramid scheme, plus the fibre

    I don’t believe they are eaten normally because of low birth rates, slow growth and little meat.

    As far as fibre goes, When things go FUBAR, warm, cheap wool will have a much better market than warmer but very pricey Alpaca. Goats and Sheep are cheaper to buy and take up similar amounts of space.

    Your are right llamas are not as nice a creature but at least they will guard the other animals, alpacas are just more yummy snacks for coyotes.

  11. Shandyon 12 Feb 2009 at 2:50 pm

    We adopted two backyard hens in May and have certainly learned a few things about keeping them, especially as we’ve been creating raised garden beds in that same backyard. Everyone told us chickens would be great for the garden–they eat bugs, help till the soil and won’t eat big plants, only seedlings. Oh, what a lie that was, as we discovered when we found our beautiful box of big broccoli plants stripped to the ribs by those two fiends in a single day. Didn’t touch them for months and then bam. Now we have bird netting all over the place and they’re still trying to get in (and loudly squawking their displeasure that they can’t). I think we’ve achieved detente for now, but those beady little eyes tell me they’re still trying to figure out a way in.

    I love the idea of beekeeping but the reality scares the bejesus out of me.

  12. The Screaming Sardineon 12 Feb 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I’ve been seriously considering raising chickens and rabbits, but I do have to get over the ick factor of butchering. Maybe if I could build a guillotine, I’d be okay - lol! I’m just afraid of not making a clean cut and hesitate at the wrong moment, there thereby causing a painful death.

  13. DEEon 12 Feb 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Note…we were inquiring about insurance with one of the big name companies and the minute my DH mentioned his bees the salesman ran to the back to check on something…then suddenly we weren’t the great customers with A-1 credit. So we stick with the insurance company we have and our bees live in a cedar grove far off the road…which is crazy as 99 out of a 100 people wouldn’t go within a thousand feet of a beehive. Our observation hive is a source of wonder for many people–kids especially–when they know they can’t get stung. DEE

  14. Melindaon 12 Feb 2009 at 5:03 pm

    I live in Ontario, and the farmer that I buy my eggs from says that there is a new law in Ontario prohibiting chickens from running / foraging free-range. It’s a precautionary measure against Avian Flu… but the gist of the regulations stipulate that any chickens that are let outside of the coop/barn must be enclosed by a wire or mesh fence (double walled) , topped with a roof. A portable cage would work on smaller holdings, but it would seem harder to manage with bigger flocks. We had been looking into getting our own layers, but now it seems more complicated - in Ontario, at least.

  15. Apple Jack Creekon 12 Feb 2009 at 10:45 pm

    We have new regulations in Alberta, too - a Premise ID. I know it is intended to improve traceability, in case a sheep comes down with Scrapie you can trace back where it came from, for example, but this is very wide ranging. This means that a 4-H kid can’t have a sheep for show unless their land is registered with a premise ID … and the list of included animals is pretty big.

    Now, it does seem to me that if you kept them purely for your own use, you could probably be legitimately excluded, because you wouldn’t be transporting the critters anywhere (but only if you also did all your own butchering).

    Most of us north of the border seem to have fewer issues with the government keeping track of our critters and such (I’ve heard no real objections to this plan, compared to the massive protests against NAIS), but … it’s interesting nonetheless. I imagine similar regs are in place in other provinces.

    The basics are here:

    “No owner of a recordable animal shall breed, keep, raise, display, assemble or dispose of the recordable animal unless that owner has a premises identification account.” Recordable livestock includes alpacas, asses, bees, bison, cattle, domestic cervids, goats, horses, llamas, mules, rabbits raised for the production of meat, ratites, sheep, swine and yaks as well as a number of wild animals (including birds) in captivity.

    Anyone keeping “recordable livestock” must have a Premise ID (PID).
    You must include your Premise ID on your movement manifest, as well as the PID of the destination (including co-mingling sites, e.g. auction,
    processor, veterinarian).
    Livestock & Commerce Act (LICA) January 1, 2009

    Read more about the Animal Health Act and the Livestock & Commerce Act at

  16. Wendyon 12 Feb 2009 at 11:31 pm

    We have six laying hens, raise meat chickens during the summer, and have raised rabbits for both meat and fiber. I live on a quarter acre suburban lot.

    About rabbits: the angoras make beautiful yarn, BUT it’s usually mixed with something else for knitting, because it’s very fine. It needs to be double-ply when spun, or it’s only “lace weight.” I don’t knit, and so I only know what the lady at the ag fair told me when she was giving me a demo on how to use my drop spindle. The point is that unless one is really a knitter, having an angora isn’t as useful for a working suburban homestead as other breeds. We’ve had rabbits (pedigree German Angora, pedigree New Zealand Reds, and Heinz 57s) since we bought our house more than a decade ago, and in my experience the best breed for a small holding like ours is just the run-of-the-mill “pet” varieties. They’re usually inexpensive and easy to find, are large enough to eat, are VERY easy to care for, provide copious amounts of really wonderful fertilizer for the garden, are great pets for the little ones, and have no problems breeding. Our “pedigree” rabbits didn’t do as well as the regular old pet breeds.

  17. Sharonon 13 Feb 2009 at 8:57 am

    Wendy, I generally mix my angora with wool, since I find it too warm for most uses - except hats, gloves and scarves that way. But I also have double plied it - you are right, it tends to be fine. On the other hand, it makes lovely lace when knitted on fairly large needles. In that sense, it is kind of like mohair.


  18. Sandywilloon 13 Feb 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Sharon, I’ve been a knitter for decades, and I’m about to learn to spin. However, I never condsidered raising fiber animals until I read your recent post. Wow, how enlightening! I think having angora rabbits could be fun, and I look forward to exploring the possibility.
    Thanks so much!

  19. Claireon 13 Feb 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I’ve thought about raising chickens or ducks. My DH and I eat a lot of eggs. We have an acre lot and no restrictive zoning, in fact we can hear a rooster somewhere nearby. But here are my objections.

    1. I haven’t read anything yet that suggests how I can feed them completely off what I produce. Buying-in food defeats the purpose of being as self-sufficient as possible. I don’t think I can easily find organic feed around here, and I don’t want to enrich big corporations selling non-organic feed that includes GE ingredients, or force the animals to eat the GE food, or eat the products made from GE food.

    2. If I don’t have males, I won’t get more animals after the first ones die. If I do have males and breed the animals, I’ll get some male offspring. Traditionally most of the males are eaten, the rest become the next breeding stock. I can see the sense in that. Philosophically, however, it suggests to me a particular attitude about males: that they are expendable. I keep wondering if this practice doesn’t have something to do with our willingness to send young men off to war (yes, I know we’re sending young women to war now too, but we sell military service more heavily to our sons), or to mining jobs or any of the other horrid practices that men have gotten stuck with.

    3. If I don’t breed more animals myself, someone else has to do it. That means I’m pushing the job of slaughtering the excess males off onto them. See point 2, but it’s worse because now I’m making someone else do it on my behalf.

    4. I practice Zen Buddhism and took a vow not to kill … but I still eat eggs, cheese, butter, and yogurt. Sigh … making someone else kill on my behalf is probably worse than killing the animal myself. See points 2 and 3.

    Any comments on the above?

    Bees and worms seem to be about all that is left. I have a worm bin in the basement. I use the castings to make the mix I start my seeds in; it’s the best stuff, no fertilization needed because the castings do that. I’m thinking about bees but have to get over my fear of being stung.

  20. Lydiaon 14 Feb 2009 at 10:59 am

    The National Animal Identification System has nothing to do with the bird flu! This is the propaganda they tell you in hopes of scaring everyone to register!

    Read the documents-the real folks behind this awful monster are the big ag companies. Small farmers who can not afford the electronic tagging devices and cost to implement the system will be pushed out of business.

    The actual number of people who have died from bird flu is so small it is almost not a blimp on the radar. This is fear mongering. There is another reason the government wants to track all of your animals.

  21. Apple Jack Creekon 14 Feb 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Claire, you do have an interesting dilemma.

    I was vegetarian for a number of years … mostly because I had been eating very poorly and by focusing on meat-free meals, I became more conscious of my eating habits and ate MUCH better. My health improved. Then, after about five years of this, I started thinking meat might be good again. I had to do some hard thinking, though, because I don’t want to be wasteful of lives and of resources, and we’ve all heard how eating meat is hard on the global food distribution system.

    So, I did some thinking and a lot of reading. See, I also want to eat locally - I figure that the very best way to reduce my footprint is to eat stuff grown nearby. Well, I live in Alberta - it would be extraordinarily difficult to have a balanced, seasonal, local vegetarian diet. Most fruit trees won’t produce well here (some apples, yes, maybe plums and cherries, but forget citrus or pears); you can have berries (raspberries, blueberries, currants); grain definitely grows here, and beans, but no rice. Come winter, that’s not going to be a very varied diet … and getting enough protein is going to be hard, even with dairy and eggs. And, as you say, with both dairy and eggs, the males go onto someone’s plate at some point in the cycle.

    The land that I live on and most of what surrounds me is great pasture land. It will readily support sheep and cows, but growing food? Not without lots of hard work and inputs. I do have a good garden, but the most efficient way to get human nutrition from *this* land is with meat. That also, handilly enough, provides me with the rich inputs my garden needs (you should see the manure pile that ten sheep and two cows creates over the course of one winter!)

    So, I decided to raise my own meat, and only eat animals I know. I do make some exceptions, because it’s not a religious thing for me, but in general, the meat on my plate was raised in my yard or a neighbour’s yard, I know they were cared for well, fed nothing but grass or appropriate feeds for that breed (no commercial feed), and that they were dispatched quickly and humanely.

    The highest honour I can do these animals is to eat them and live well, I figure. If I lived in Hawaii, I could consider being vegetarian. Here? A sustainable diet where I live needs meat in it. So … I choose to eat meat *mindfully*, rather than not at all. For me, that’s how it worked out.

    Just something you may wish to add to your considerations. Depending where you live, some of the issues may be different, of course, but it’s another perpsective for you, anyway. :)

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply