Getting started in the earth-to-table movement


Learn about raising livestock and more in your own backyard at the upcoming MetroParks programs.

By Nick Hrkman

What if you could get fresh eggs, wool, milk, cheese, or meat without ever having to leave your yard? A growing number of communities across the country are relaxing regulations to allow people to keep small livestock on their property. Whether you want a few chickens to provide a regular stock of eggs, or a menagerie of goats, sheep, rabbits, and more, there are a number of local resources for you to learn how to
get started.

Five Rivers MetroParks offers a series of upcoming programs that cover the basics of the care and handling of different animals. Backyard Chickens 101 on Mar. 21 at Possum Creek MetroPark will review coop design, the amount of space required, and the feeds and equipment you might need.

“Before you spend a ton of money on an animal, come and ask questions at one of our programs,” Connie Duncan, Education Specialist for Five Rivers MetroParks, said. “These are the go-to events for learning about everything that’s involved with keeping small livestock.”

If the cold winter inspired you to find your own source of wool, the day-long From Sheep to Shawls program on Apr. 7 will give you a comprehensive look at the process of keeping and shearing sheep, in addition to the methods for carding, dyeing, and spinning the wool. These techniques are demonstrated as they were performed in the 19th century at Carriage Hill MetroPark’s historical farm.

Goats can be raised for milk, fiber, or meat. The Back Yard Goats: Taste and Learn program on Apr. 18 will teach you about breeds, proper care, and fencing. The program will also allow you to taste goat products and includes a take-home bar of goat
milk soap.

Different animals have different needs and would-be owners need to do their research before picking up the pitchfork.

“You have to have a good fence for goats—they’re little Houdinis!” Duncan said. “There are many other small responsibilities you might not first appreciate. For example, are you prepared to regularly trim your goat’s feet? They have cuticles, like humans, and you have to trim them to prevent hoof rot. Do you have access to a veterinarian? Do you have the space to store their food? All of these are important questions to
answer beforehand.”

You also need to know what your local zoning regulations allow you to do. In 2016, the City of Dayton launched a poll to gauge the interest of homeowners seeking to allow chickens on residential property. The informal results were overwhelmingly in favor, yet zoning codes still vary dramatically from municipality to municipality. Dayton zoning can pose a problem.

“Outside of having a fairly large lot, you would need to get a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals and demonstrate enclosure of the animals and surrounding property owner support for backyard livestock,” Jon White, a city planner for the City of
Dayton, said.

Ohio House Bill 175 was introduced in April of 2017. It would allow an owner of residential property to keep, harbor, breed, or maintain small livestock on their property. The bill remains in committee, but if signed into law, would supersede municipal
zoning regulations.

Zoning requirements are much less restrictive for rabbits, which can be kept as pets or for their lean meat, or for bees, which provide honey and help the local ecosystem.

Backyard or community gardens can also benefit from the by-products of goats, chickens, sheep, or rabbits. Learn about Garden Basics on Apr. 14 at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark so you can start your own garden, which might provide food for your animals and would give you a convenient place to dispose of your manure.

Do you love baby animals, but don’t want to take on the work of raising and caring for them yourself? Visit the barns at Carriage Hill or Possum Creek MetroParks year-round to see goats, horses, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, and more. One of Possum Creek MetroPark’s goats, Cocoa, gave birth to two kids, Hershey and Snickers, at the end of January. The new mother and her babies have received a clean bill of health from a veterinarian and are accepting visits.

The Earth-to-Table movement stresses the importance of local food to reduce your carbon footprint and keep money in the regional economy. If you can’t raise animals or grow your own food, you can still support the conservation mission by joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) co-op or visit a farmers market, like the 2nd Street Market, to purchase your food from a local source.

Upcoming MetroParks programs include Backyard Chickens on Mar. 21, Sheep to Shawls on Apr. 7, Backyard Goats on Apr. 18, and Family Goat Adventure on Apr. 28. For more information, visit MetroParks.org

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Reach DCP freelance writer Nick Hrkman at NickHrkman@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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