Nigerian dwarf goats grow to only 21 in. tall, about equal to a medium-size dog. "But they have giant udders," says Novella Carpenter. She should know: she has six goats that together provide a quart of milk a day, which she drinks and uses to make cheese and butter. And when the bleating beauties are not grazing in her 1,000-sq.-ft. yard, they're hanging out on the porch of her second-floor apartment in the middle of Oakland, Calif.
Carpenter, a city dweller who in recent years has tried her hand at raising turkeys (she got three day-old poults for $2 each) and pigs (which she fattened to 300 lb.) for dinner, says she turned to milk-producing goats because "I decided I needed a more long-term relationship." The author of the new Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, she is eager to help others get into what she describes as a "hobby that involves sex and birth and death and life."
There have been lots of stories lately about chicken coops' becoming a new urban and suburban accessory. But Carpenter considers the squawking hen "the urban-farming gateway animal," the first occupant of a big metropolitan menagerie. Among eco-foodies, the hottest urban livestock bleat, quack, gobble, oink, buzz and ... well, whatever noise rabbits make. Just ask the folks at Seattle Tilth, a composting and gardening nonprofit that this summer added goat sheds and pens to its long-standing local chicken-coop tour. Or ask the participants in Detroit's Garden Resource Program, which recently launched beekeeping classes and saw them fill up immediately. Even the so-called Chicken Whisperer, a.k.a. Andy Schneider, who hosts an urbane chicken radio show six days a week from suburban Atlanta, is branching out. He is planning an episode on turkeys after fielding so many questions about them from listeners.
The growing popularity of raising barnyard animals in backyards or indoors (at least two companies, ChickenDiapers.com and MyPetChicken.com sell nappies to people who want their birds to bunk with them) has forced many municipalities across the country to statutorily reckon with allowing livestock within city limits. But legal or not, urban animal husbandry is gaining cachet. That's not only because of the desire to eat local and organic but also because the shaky economy has more people wanting to be more self-sufficient. Says Seattle Tilth garden educator Carey Thornton: "Food you raise yourself just tastes better."
Most newbies keep chickens for eggs. Schneider's organization, Backyard Poultry, has groups in 19 cities in the U.S. and four outside the country; of the 700 members in Atlanta, for example, only five raise hens for consumption. Miniature goats are usually kept for milk and weed-eating; bees, for honey and pollination.
But the truly hard-core urban farmers are plumping their animals for meat, shortening the food-supply chain and being responsible carnivores. "It's empowering," says Carpenter, who is nurturing 10 bunnies to eat. "People want to own their meat-eating."