We live on one acre in urban Austin — we’re a quirky South Austin neighborhood that apparently used to be out on the fringe of the city back in the day, but the city has since grown up around us. So, it’s like country living within Austin, and many of our neighbors have urban farm animals like we do. We are often asked why we urban farm, and if we “process” our animals. “Process” means “Do you kill and eat your animals?” only it sounds better.
The answer to the second question is “no.” While Brett has considered having meat chickens for that purpose, that is not something we are prepared to do at this time. We do eat meat, although not a lot, and we have not thought through that decision enough to make it yet.
So the first question remains: Why do we urban farm? The quick answer is because we love raising the animals, and they help us to live closer to the earth. But we do have a system: every single animal on our property has a job to do, and they do it well. While we love our animals and consider them pets, we work with them to create a more sustainable life here at Berkeley Farm. Here’s how we do it:
GOATS: The Animal That Began Our Urban Farm
We currently have 12 goats on the property, but are planning to sell 4 of them. It all started with Goatier, who was fairly unceremoniously dropped onto our property in late 2012. We have no information about Goatier’s past, except that he was likely mistreated and is probably part Pygmy.
Our goats all have French names, and it started with Goatier. We first called him “Buddy,” and he was almost feral and wouldn’t let us touch him or approach him for months on end. Brett finally said, “Maybe if we give him a fancy name, he’ll act better.” Nice try, but he’s still pretty ornery. Now we have Coco Chanel, Brigitte, Chloe, Andre, Michelle, Zoe, and Trudeau (our bottle-fed buckling). The four babies we have do not have names because we’re planning to sell them, and I get attached to things I name.
The herd keeps the Back 40 neat and tidy. We used to have a poison ivy problem, but no more — poison ivy does not affect goats, and they have eradicated it from our property. Their droppings stay on the ground and enrich the soil. We do put some into the compost pile as well. At the end of the vegetable garden season, we let them into the garden to clean it all up for us.
Future plans include milking the goats for goats’ cheese and yogurt, as well as for goat’s milk soap. I don’t eat a lot of dairy products (it’s an inflammatory food, which is not great for my lymphedema), but Brett likes cheese so between the two of us, we’ll use up that goat milk!
Chickens are often considered the gateway animal into the urban farm lifestyle. We have close to 40 chickens — all are hens save for one rooster. Many but not all have names (we named the first 20 or so and then started losing track). Our chickens give us delicious, nutritious eggs every day — currently, we get 12- 18 per day, but we expect that to increase shortly as some of our younger hens are almost old enough to start laying.
Our chickens are also great pest control. They scratch the ground looking for insects, and grubs are some of their favorites. And if you’ve heard that chickens poop a lot, you’ve heard right. We scoop the poop from the coop (hey, that rhymes) and add it to the compost pile — it’s high in nitrogen and needs to be thoroughly rotted or composted before using in the garden.
We currently have 2 adult ducks (one male or “drake” and one female), and 8 ducklings that are being raised in the shed until they are fully feathered out and can join the rest of the gang. Now, I have to say, ducks aren’t my fave, but Brett has a heart for them, so that’s why we have them. They poop literally everywhere, but are more resilient than chickens, so there’s that.
We get several large duck eggs a week and, like the chickens, ducks are superior pest control. Currently, we have a large stock tank pond for their “bathing” water — this water gets muddy/poopy/dirty very quickly, but we have a plan. Oh, yes, we do. My husband, Brett, is an apprentice plumber (among his many skills — lucky me!) and he’s planning to connect a drain from the stock tank to our vegetable garden, so the “duck water” is used to irrigate the garden. I am really excited about this, because this water is almost like compost tea with its watered down manure.
We have one pot-belly pig named Olive Rose. I love Olive Rose; she’s my baby. When I got her as a baby in August 2016, so many people made the pork chop joke. As in, “Mmmmm, is she going to be pork chops?” NO. For lots of reasons. I’ve always wanted a pig, and Olive Rose is my pet pig (although she does have a job, and I’ll get to that in a minute). But seriously, if I was going to raise a pig for meat, I wouldn’t choose a pot-belly with their smaller size — if you really want pork, you raise a hog, not a pot-belly.
Olive’s job is to turn over the ground with her snout. Pigs have very tough snouts and super strong necks; it’s their daily business to stick their noses into everything. Olive roams around the Back 40 and roots up weeds and eats them, turns up rocks, and poops in one very specific corner of the yard. We clean up the rocks regularly, making our soil less rocky and more soil-y. Her manure is also used in the compost pile, although she is such a prolific pooper that we have to throw some out.
We’ve had the beehive for about a year now, and it takes that long (at least) to start getting honey and beeswax, so we don’t currently enjoy those benefits. But the bees help to pollinate are existing vegetable garden, and from what I can see, they take their job very seriously.
The bees are actually a project of our housemate and dear friend, Todd. Todd and a friend of his took a beekeeping class and decided to add an apiary in our backyard. There are plans for a second and possibly even a third hive — for me, these bees really complete our urban farm.
The Bottom Line
I grew up in a military family, and we moved every 3-5 years. I’ve moved 17 times total in my life. From the time I was a small child, I dreamed of country living and creating a home environment that encourages a love of the land with deep community roots. We’ve created that at Berkeley Farm — some might call us modern-day homesteaders, but the labels don’t mean much to me. I love our little acre and the urban farm we’ve created — but mostly I love the sense of well-being and groundedness that I get from our farm, the animals, and the gardens. In exchange, we love our animals and care for them well — and are very grateful to them for being a part of our lives!