Urban Livestock: A homesteading guide for Chicago parents

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 5-year-old daughter Viva, who would like to run a public-nuisance-to-table dairy operation in her alley.

When one becomes a parent, one suddenly gains a new depth of appreciation for the care and feeding of other lives. Poop also begins to become an increased matter of concern. It follows, then, that you might feel a sudden pull towards farming. I myself have no great love of agriculture, but upon becoming a father could suddenly picture myself as a gentlemen farmer, handsomely bedecked in rich tweeds and Wellington boots, surveying my orchards and flocks before sitting at a harvest table laden with my estate’s fruitage. 

As a city dweller with very little real estate your pastoral dreams seem dashed — but did you know that more and more people are taking up “Urban Homesteading?” Craft farming, if you will. And while gardening is quite popular in Chicago, few people know that Chicago municipal codes are quite liberal in their allowances of livestock! As a matter of fact, there is NO LIMIT to the number or kind of livestock you can keep. You are welcome to bring goats, chickens, pigs, bees, alpacas, tofurkeys, tribbles* and more, right to your balcony or tiny parcel of lawn.

Urban Homesteading is an opportunity to teach children valuable lessons, like how we have conquered the natural world and bent it to our whim, or how filthy your food is before it gets to the grocery store. Most effectively, it can teach your kids how to drive their neighbors into a vengeful rage.

Urban Livestock can be raised to yield dairy products,**including eggs, which I swear were in the dairy group when we were kids but I’m pretty sure are more like meat. You’ll need to ask a hippie.*** Fresh eggs and milk are more delicious than the kind you buy at the store, which is irradiated and contains tasting notes of existential dread owing to the terroir**** of commercial farms. Before you begin your small farm, do run the numbers on how financial desirable it will be, as you will be spending thousands on beasts, feed, pens and noise ordinance violations, even though eggs only cost between 59 cents and $5 a dozen, depending on how much you hate chickens. Alternately, you could instead raise animals for their wool. Even though you only have room for but one Rambouillet, that sheep alone could yield four sweaters! Christmas is solved!

The most popular species of urban livestock is the bee. It is hard to think of bees as livestock, because you can’t push them over while they are sleeping, and if you groom the best bee at the county fair there is no place to pin the blue ribbon. They are alive, though, and can be raised in collections of hives called “apiaries”***** It is much more realistic to have a swarm of bees at your urban dwelling than a herd of, say, cows, because bees are tiny and cows are quite cumbersome, although cows will never turn on you and arrange themselves into the shape of an arrow pointing your way before chasing your into a pond. Bees pull that move all the time.

Pigs are an option, as they are both the smartest and most delicious of your barnyard friends. They even made a movie about a pig in the city: “Short Circuit 2,” which was hilarious until the spider died.

Goats are very popular urban livestock. I haven’t the foggiest why, as they are utterly charmless and will eat the buttons right off of your soul, but as the French say, “à chacun son goat.”******

Feathers, manure and other ranch byproducts and detritus may be an issue. You’ll have to think holistically. The manure can feed the vegetables you probably should have been growing instead of the goats, and the feathers could make salmonella ridden pillows to dispense to your enemies. It’s the circle of life.********

Now you have some farm-to-table food for thought on whether or not to become an urban farmer. It could be an enriching experience for you and your children that helps increase your sense of husbandry and builds a connection between you and the land. If it sounds too ambitious, though, just consider putting on a Neil Young album and daydreaming about what could have been.

*Careful, though, they’re trouble.

**Chicago ordinances do state that livestock raised on your deck cannot be slaughtered for food, so you’ll just have to teach your kids about artisanal murder some other way. You also aren’t allowed to train your roosters to fight, even if they just want to get back at those bully roosters from Cobra Kai. Your dogs CAN be posed in little bowler hats and vests while playing poker if you wish to paint them like your French girls, and bulldogs can even be dressed as bees for hilarious greeting cards, although bees cannot be dressed as bulldogs, because their honey will taste like Snausages and you’ll be run right out of the farmer’s market.

***Just don’t let them braid your hair or put on their noodly music; you won’t be allowed back at the office.

****“Terroir” is when something tastes like where it was raised. Wine may maintain the minerality of its home soil. Cheese, such as a soft Menschterklass, may have wistful notes of the Vosges, and a fresh bowl of Lucky Charms could leave a longing to watch the sun go down on Galway Bay right on your tonight. 

*****This sounds like they would hold apes, and not bees, which might tempt you to raise apes.******* You should avoid creating “Tropic World Roscoe Village” at your home, though, because while that seems intriguing insofar as the apes could make banana honey, it is problematic in that they would would throw their feces at your neighbors, prompting acute complaints.

******This is my favorite joke I have ever made.

*******Your young children know a little sign language and want pet kittens. Your apes will also know a little sign language and want pet kittens. Do not let them team up, because they will tell Alexa to ship you lots of kittens, totally throwing off the delicate balance or your urban biome. Neither Charlton Heston, Marky Mark nor Woody Harrelson will come save you.

********Ingonyama, ingonyama baba: Everything the light touches — the troughs, the feed, the pens, will lower your property value. 

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