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The down and dirty on raising livestock in the city

July 23, 2009 |  1:57 pm


Novella Carpenter, the author of the new memoir "Farm City," may have created her own slice of rural life on the mean streets of Oakland, but what about enterprising urban farmers here in Los Angeles? Where does one start?

I spoke with Erik Knutzen, co-author with Kelly Coyne of the 2008 book "The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City."

Knutzen and Coyne have been tending to their 35-foot-by-100-foot garden in Echo Park for 11 years, and their blog Homegrown Evolution is chock full of day-to-day tips for aspiring urban land tillers.

If you're lucky enough to have a backyard at all, the first thing to do is get your soil tested for things like lead and other pollutants.

"Everyone says very good things about Wallace Labs," Knutzen told me. "It's a little more expensive, but they'll get on the phone with you. This can be very important, as it's sometimes difficult to interpret the results if you're not a soil geek."

Even if your soil is tainted, the raised-bed method works in a pinch and requires only a couple of feet of soil and some wood.

Although Knutzen and Coyne aren't urban livestock raisers like Carpenter -- they keep four hens for egg-laying purposes -- Knutzen directed me toward the section of the City Municpal Code regarding animals.

This section is vague when it comes to backyard livestock, but the Department of Animal Regulation guidebook's Additional Permit Requirements (dated Aug. 27, 1998) states that rabbits, pheasants, chicken, turkeys, ducks and any other kind of fowl must be kept at least 35 feet away from the next property (and at least 20 feet away from your building).

If your fowl likes to stretch its vocal cords in the early morning -- like, say a rooster -- you're going to have to back that up to a 100-foot distance.

"I've got four hens and a Doberman pinscher," Knutzen says with a laugh. "A Doberman is a very nice dog, but he could kill you. The hens -- they're not going to kill you. Funny how there's no distance requirement with a Doberman. He could be inches from the neighbor's yard."

With calves, sheep, goats and other similarly sized animals, the distance to the next property must be 75 feet. For bees, it's 300 feet.

For those interested in raising very exotic wildlife, it's best to keep your monkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and pandas 75 feet away from the next building. Woe betide the man whose camel wanders off to nibble at his neighbor's satellite dish.

Strangely, the minimum distance for an alligator or a cheetah is only 35 feet. And, when keeping pigeons, please don't exercise them more than twice daily.

For more information about permit applications and how and where to park that livestock, you can call Los Angeles Animal Services at (888) 452-7381.

-- George Ducker

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South L.A. backyards becoming barnyards

Photo: Roosters perch on a bridge as children play in the sand at Los Angeles Family School in Silver Lake. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times