Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 1, 2013

Animal farm

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, Public Resources — Tags: , , — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

I think the discussion about backyard farm animals is getting a bit into the weeds, even though it’s been really helpful to identify issues that arise around this topic.

A few commenters have identified three distinct issues that could be (should be?) taken up separately.   Because I don’t really think that these other issues necessarily need to be addressed in conjunction with that is being presented right now.

So the distinct issues are:

  1. Keeping of backyard farm animals (distance from neighbors, notification, how many, etc)
  2. Public health issues
  3. Backyard slaughter

The ordinance that was presented the other night was to create rules to deal with number 1 only, and allow existing laws to cover the other two.   Right now, Alameda has some rules around the keeping of backyard farm animals, but they are really outdated and in need of refreshing.   Some commenters have suggested — maybe not outright suggested, but hinted at — that we should be having a discussion whether farm animals should be allowed in Alameda at all.   Personally, given the fact that some types of animals are allowed — and since the law is silent on other animals, I would say that they are allowed — having that discussion is unnecessary.

That discussion is unnecessary because if the City were to do nothing there would still be goats and chickens and rabbits in Alameda backyards anyway. Sure the occasional Bosco would need to get a reprieve from the police chief, but in general, not much would change. The beauty of an ordinance is that things that our forefathers/mothers didn’t think of can be included in this new ordinance, so if there are concerns about the number if goats people can have, it can be included.    But I think attempting to get rid of all backyard farm animals is a losing proposition, because that would require crafting an ordinance that would essentially say: nope, can’t have it.   To which the proponents of a more refined ordinance would just abandon the task of assisting in creating a good ordinance.

With regard to public health issues, as a commenter pointed out there are county and city codes that already cover sanitation and health issues, if someone feels as though these should be expanded upon with the adoption of a refined backyard farm animal ordinance then it can be done after the fact once the whole ordinance is spelled out.

And the hot button issue, that of slaughter, honestly I think Alameda should take the El Cerrito route of not touching it and allowing the state law to hold.   But if someone wants to tackle the issue of backyard slaughter, it should be done outside of the backyard farm animal ordinance and that ordinance should not be held hostage in order to deal with the even touchier issue of backyard slaughter.


  1. I would also suggest that beekeeping is also a separate issue and should be addressed as such, since the beekeepers provide a service to the whole community. They contain wild swarms that would otherwise wind up in someone’s tree or attic, causing a hazard to the homeowners and their neighbors. Their bees pollinate everybody else’s flowers and vegetables for free. Bees are currently endangered and are a necessary part of our ecosystem. Instead of charging a fee to keep bees, the City should pay a stipend to those who keep them and who abide by certain common sense restrictions that could crafted much in the same way the farm animal issue has been approached–with input from those currently involved in the practice and from the community at large.

    In many areas of Alameda such as Bayport and Harbor Bay Isle, homeowners associations would put the kibosh on any would be urban sheepherders and chicken pluckers, so I suppose most of those folks are really not concerned that this will have any effect on them. Much in the same way that I don’t have an issue with the noise from a local bar because I don’t live close enough to it to hear it, most folks will not have a problem with the practice of keeping farm animals because they will never live next to anyone who does. I suppose if “farm fever” continues, there may be issues in the future that will have to be addressed. Additional laws may not be necessary though. If someone’s goat gets into your garden and takes out your prize blackberry bush, you can probably sue them anyway regardless of whether goats are allowed or not.

    I do think it’s important to listen to other perspectives and attitudes whenever restrictions are adjusted. The best case scenario approach to lawmaking is simpler and faster but not necessarily wise.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — May 1, 2013 @ 7:00 am

  2. Well said, Denise. It sounds like some in the city government are coming around to a similar position: of seeing bee hives as something more akin to bat houses than goats and pigs.

    Comment by Jack Mingo — May 1, 2013 @ 8:18 am

  3. yeah, and it would be good to remind folks with bee swarms not to call an exterminator. This spring we seem to have wasps in the attic which we’ve ignored, but a year or two ago bees got into an opening in the bottom of a bay window and local bee collector built a simple vacuum system with a couple five gallon buckets and sucked them out. that was way cool.

    Comment by M.I. — May 1, 2013 @ 8:26 am

  4. Even though I do not have a canine in this conflict, so to speak, I think a careful and detailed approach to backyard animals–including bees, which can have commercial value, just like the eggs that chickens lay–is critical here. The AMC should probably refer to or include the state codes regarding slaughter in order to help clarify what is acceptable local practice. I also wonder if a self-funding permit and inspection system might not be a bad idea, in order to encourage accountability among those rising animals. After all, we require licenses for cats and dogs, and various livestock would, IMHO, pose similar challenges to their owners as well as their neighbors.

    I love bees and beekeepers but would rather see beekeepers exempted from fees under certain circumstances–as long as they are willing to help out with the kinds of bee issues that Mark irons mentioned, for example. Otherwise, bees differ only in their zoological details from a goats and chickens, but keeping them in one’s back yard serves the same purposes.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — May 1, 2013 @ 10:24 am

  5. The ordinance should not be pushed through separately by the proponents(the only people working with the city currently). Urban farming is farming just in urban areas. Farming involves slaughter, dead stock, the food supply, public health and sanitation. Issues that effect our entire community. The ordinance involves four species that no vet in town treats, and no public agency knows anything about.
    No way should these issues be “treated separately”.

    Comment by Em — May 1, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

  6. Sometimes doing nothing is the best solution. Is this issue broken? I there a popular demand that something be done? If not bury it.

    Comment by Jack Richard — May 1, 2013 @ 8:49 pm

  7. The demand is from the “farmers”. For instance they want 8 rabbits unfixed. Rabbits have litters of 10 to 12 sometimes. This issue of one litter putting you over the limit is why people dump their excess in parks and shelters.
    City counters 4 fixed. One wonders who has their thinking cap on? Rabbit neuter spay is anywhere from 3 or 4 hundred to one thousand due to the anaethesia complications involved with bunnies. No one wanting to raise bunnies for meat is going to spay neuter!
    Which is why the neighbors in Oakland had to call animal control and the city shelter hauled in numerous loads of urine and feces soaked bunnies. They are too destructive to run around your yard so the “farmers” leave them caged.
    Intensive confinement.

    Comment by Em — May 1, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

  8. Ps
    Bunnies are hard to “sex” meaning tell male from female, so keeping males from females is hard.

    Comment by Em — May 1, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

  9. FYI, by state law beekeepers are required to register their hives with their country agricultural agent. In Alameda County it’s free, but I previously kept bees in another (rural) county where we paid a fee, and had one inspection per year to review the health of my hives and test for foulbrood. They also notified us of any planned spraying nearby in enough time for me to net and move my hives. Alameda County hasn’t sent an inspector by, but in theory they could at any time.

    I’m not sure what would be accomplished by additional city regulation on bees.

    Comment by Ayse — May 1, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

  10. Judging from comment number 1, taxpayers should fund apiaries in Alameda City. That would require a city regulation.

    Comment by Jack Richard — May 1, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

  11. Nobody in this city is going to vote to pay beekeepers a stipend, certainly not enough of one to make it worth applying for. Right now most people don’t keep bees because it is relatively expensive to get started and there’s the whole stinging insect thing. Even so, in my neighborhood there are six beekeepers within a four-block radius, and I know of two wild hives as well. That is plenty of bees, no financial incentive needed.

    Comment by Ayse — May 1, 2013 @ 10:29 pm


    Coming to a neighborhood near you curtesy of deregulated backyard slaughter

    Comment by Em — May 1, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

  13. Em, backyard slaughter is already regulated in Alameda. As is the use of firearms within city limits.

    Comment by Ayse — May 2, 2013 @ 6:47 am

  14. Please let us know in what way backyard slaughter is regulated!?!

    Do you mean it is occurring ? Just regulated? Please explain and be detailed.
    Thank you

    Comment by Em — May 2, 2013 @ 7:49 am

  15. There are some real interesting comments on this issue from the Alameda County Vector Control service on Action Alameda News. Seems to me like we ought to listen to what they have to say about this issue, and incorporate some if not all of their suggestions into the new ordinance. It would be foolish to do otherwise. Let’s do it right — and while we have everyone’s attention.

    I like Jon Spangler’s ideas — either have applicants post a bond or the self-funding permit and inspection system can work as well. Either way, the permit fees should cover the costs of an Environmental Inspector.

    Comment by Karen Bey — May 2, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  16. Front yard Lao Fowl Chow

    Comment by Jack Richard — May 3, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

  17. Em, slaughter is regulated by the state and county under current laws. It’s very very easy to find this information on the various web sites that list California and Alameda County codes, so I will not look it up for you a second time. And yes, backyard slaughter already occurs in Alameda because it is already legal and has been as long as Alameda has been incorporated as a city. The reality of the practise is probably very different from what you imagine.

    Comment by mrspie — May 4, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  18. Slaughter is not regulated for personal consumption. When is the last time you secret slaughterers, that no one knows about, had state or county inspectors at your palace?
    Glad someone finally admitted it is taking place.

    Comment by Em — May 6, 2013 @ 4:27 am

  19. Ps I meant to say place. When is the last time a backyard slaughterer in Alameda had inspectors watching them, never!
    Which is the regulatory process for commercial slaughterhouses. There is not enforcement or enough regulation on that level, which is part of the criticism of the big corporate food biz.
    To say there is “regulation” of slaughter at the backyard level is laughable.

    Comment by Em — May 6, 2013 @ 4:31 am

  20. Em, there are laws about slaughter, and those do not prohibit backyard slaughter and they do not require inspection unless the meat is to be consumed outside of the household of the slaughterer. Laws are a form of regulation, you know. Backyard slaughter, like all slaughter in the California, is covered under existing laws. Just because it is not *banned* does not mean it is unregulated. You are still required to obey the humane slaughter laws. Since the consequences of you being unsanitary are limited to your own family, you aren’t required to prove your slaughtering operation does not place the public at risk, but that seems pretty fair to me; it would be stupid to waste taxpayer money inspecting backyard slaughters, when we don’t have health inspectors checking home kitchens for the same things as they check restaurants for.

    I’m also not clear on why it’s a shock to find out slaughter is happening here. It’s perfectly legal and it’s not happening on a massive scale because there isn’t agriculture on a massive scale in Alameda. On the other hand, I’ve had to euthanize two of my chickens, and I did it in my backyard (getting a chicken euthanized by a veterinarian is NOT cheap). I’ve replaced queens in my hives, which involved killing animals in my back yard. Dealing with death is part of owning animals. Nobody seems to think it’s a problem except for the kind of people who think nobody should have pets or keep animals at all.

    Comment by mrspie — May 6, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

  21. It is a Pandora’s Box; having livestock in backyards’ of Alameda. The irony is that I abhor factory farming and am a huge advocate for small farms. But we will have some residences with livestock being raised, breed and slaughtered without oversight or concern for neighbors, the environment, or the animals. Let’s consider that people who have livestock in their backyards’, will be, for the most part, on the honor system. I don’t think the city has the resources to make inspections, issue citations, etc. I say this because when I called to ask what the law was pertaining to chicken’s, I had a difficult time getting a return call. When I finally spoke to someone, he literally whined to me about how short staffed they are and all the responsibilities he had. I wasn’t asking him to do anything but answer a question. I know they all work hard and do the best they can but it made me feel bad for bothering them. So what will it be like when people need help with noncompliant neighbors? That said, whatever laws we enact or use, whether from the city or state, are going to be kind of irrelevant. With all due respect to Alamedans, there are some people who aren’t going to abide by any law. It’s possible that they don’t even know what the laws are. Will we send out a mailer to every residence in a language they can read? (My landlord doesn’t speak English.) My neighbor had a rooster and could not have cared less about the noise. I tried to make the best of it for a year before I had no choice but to call the city and complain. I felt bad having to do that and was really amazed that he would not have realized it was disturbing the peace.

    What about animal waste and rodent issues? What about environmental and contamination issues? What about how they are housed and slaughtered? What can renters do when a backyard farm at their residence infringes on their rights? I’m expected to comply with all rules and regulations for the safety, care and cleanliness of the premises and for the benefit and comfort of other tenants or neighbors. A renter also has the right to quiet enjoyment.

    I came home one day to witness, in the FRONT YARD, my landlord slowly slitting the throat of a live chicken so he could save the blood in a container for some reason. (We do not have chickens. Maybe he bought it from the neighbor.) Truth is, I don’t have a problem with this in principle, because I’ve seen what happens in slaughterhouses and it could never be as horrible. Although state laws says “the animal must be rendered insensible to pain by a captive bolt, gunshot, electrical or chemical means, or any other means that is rapid and effective before being cut, shackled, hoisted, thrown, or cast, with the exception of poultry which may be shackled”, unfortunately, it’s not adhered to. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was shocked and stood there for a moment. The landlord laughed because he saw that it bothered me even though I tried to hide it. Are we going to address this or just use state law? How will the law be enforced? I actually think that people should see, first-hand, how the animals they eat are raised and killed. But I don’t eat chicken and wish he had done it somewhere else.

    Comment by Holly Rose — May 13, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  22. 22. I appreciate your apparently very sincere and earnest post complete with actual anecdote of front yard slaughter, but still want to disagree with your premise of Pandora’s Box, at least for now. If slaughter, which seems to be a relatively rare occurrence, does explode in popularity and become problematic, there is no reason that situation cannot be addressed when/if it arises. Otherwise with regard to regulation and enforcement, I’d echo Jack R. from a while back,” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

    Meanwhile we can consider other alternatives, though it may still raise objections from advocates for rights of all sentient beings..

    Comment by M.I. — May 14, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

  23. 22
    There we go again with this pain thing. Is pain a liberal guilt thing. If pain is more bad than the chickens death that follows, then death means nothing. Inflicting pain is and has been a recreational pursuit of animals way before Lucy left her footprint in the Olduvai Gorge and still is a recreational pursuit everywhere but here.

    Comment by Jack Richard — May 14, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

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