The Chickens and Goats Next Door: an Oakland Snapshot

by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
December 5, 2011
Image courtesy Flickr user calpsychick

Urban animal husbandry, though nothing new, is a cause for concern for many people – especially planners. Chickens, rabbits, bees and goats conjure up nightmares of odors, noises, animal cruelty and more. As mentioned in an earlier post, when Oakland’s planning department held a meeting to discuss changes to urban agriculture regulations, nearly 300 people showed, many of them there primarily to talk about animals. Oakland, like many other jurisdictions nationwide, is proceeding cautiously as it updates its animal regulations.

While concern is plentiful, data is scarce. This imbalance is what makes a recently released study of urban livestock practices in Oakland so useful. Co-authors Esperanza Pallana and Nathan McClintock surveyed city residents who raise animals for food in Oakland and other cities in June 2011. The authors are advocates of urban agriculture and the respondents were all self-selecting. While that could lead to a bias in the results, there’s no indication from other literature that the findings aren’t reliable. Of the 134 respondents nationally, 36 lived in Oakland. 

Highlights from the study include:

  • The most popular animals are chickens and bees
  • In Oakland, more than 80 percent of respondents said that they had never received complaints from neighbors. The six respondents who had heard complaints said they based on concerns over noise (including the crows of illegal roosters), odor and fear of injury/disease.
  • Average numbers of animals kept per type:
       Fowl:        4-8
       Bees:        1-2 (hives)
       Rabbits:    1-3
       Goats:       2-3

Those last numbers are important, because they help paint a picture of what urban animal husbandry looks like in most yards. In covering this topic, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story in June about more than 20 rabbits confined in small spaces in the East Bay.  It was a sensational story highlighting a truly cruel situation. What this new report indicates, however, is that the types of operations that make for attention-grabbing stories are the exception, not the norm. Planners and policymakers would do well to keep that in mind as they update local codes.

Read the Urban Livestock in Oakland report >>