Guest post: Keeping goats in Seattle
Bonnie here: Jenni Pertuset, who's posted previously about the Crown S Ranch in Washington State, recently met a goat owner who could use some help from fellow Seattle residents. Read on to find out how a small urban farm is butting heads with city regulations.
Jenni (pronounced like Jenna) lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter, and dreams of having her own urban farm. She helped create Seattle's first meat CSA of pastured beef, pork, and poultry from Crown S Ranch, and she continues to help coordinate the program. (If you're in Seattle and want to say hi, you can find her lending a hand at the ranch's booth in the Queen Anne Farmers' Market today, Thursday the 6th.)
Jennie Grant’s goats are outlaws.
That Snowflake and Brownie are clean, quiet, and gentle wasn’t sufficient to convince Seattle that they’re pets, and rightly so – these are productive, working animals. (Well, one of them is – the other she hopes to “freshen” (breed) so it will begin giving milk this year.)
Still, Jennie did try, since you can’t keep farm animals on your Seattle lot unless it’s 20,000 square feet or larger —and who has nearly half an acre in the city? Jennie’s Madrona neighborhood lot is less than a tenth. Small as it is, it’s a thriving urban farm, with several laying hens, two dairy goats, and a vegetable garden.
The goats and chickens are tucked into a clearing in the hillside thicket behind Jennie’s house. To find them, you walk out her daylight basement, through her terraced garden, and down a long flight of steps built against a retaining wall. Her goats aren’t “pastured” (for lack of a better term, since goats browse on woody plants in addition to grazing the grass and legumes that make up a pasture) though neither are they crowded. Their pen feels comfortable even with four humans — two adults, a 7-year-old, and a toddler — visiting the animals.
The fence that keeps in the animals also encloses a milking shed, a chicken coop, a compost drum, a feed storage box, and a blackberry vine feeder. Jennie ingeniously rigged up the feeder from two pieces of fencing hinged at the bottom and clasped together at the top with a bungee cord. She stuffs it daily with brambles collected from people happy to have help disposing of them. The feed storage box contains the goats' supplemental feed of alfalfa pellets and hay, and also provides Brownie with a climbing structure.
The pen isn’t visible from the road, from the neighbors’, or even from most of Jennie’s house. So how did the city find out about them? A distant neighbor who had never seen the goats overheard her talking about them at a party —and turned her in. When the inspector told her she couldn’t keep her goats, Jennie approached city councilmember Richard Conlin and asked whether he could help her persuade the city’s Department of Planning and Development to allow her to keep the goats. The only way for her to keep them, he said, was to get the code changed.
Conlin took on the project, and his legislative assistant Phyllis Shulman drafted an ordinance (PDF) that would allow Seattlelites to keep miniature goats provided that the goats are dehorned and the males are neutered. The code reclassifies miniature, dwarf, and pygmy goats such as Jennie’s mini La Manchas as as small animals, rather than farm animals, a distinction that would cause the city to count the goats among the three small animals permissible on a city lot of less than 20,000 sq ft. The code seems not to define “small animal,” though the requirement of licensing dogs, cats, and potbellied pigs – a list to which goats are added under the current proposal – suggests that those are the animals included in the count. Bees and “domestic fowl” are also allowed (roosters presumably too, since the code doesn’t specifically exclude them), though counted separately.
The Seattle City Council will hold a public hearing on the goat ordinance at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 18 in the council chamber on the second floor of Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue. To testify in person, sign up during the half hour prior to the hearing on the sheet outside the chamber. You can also provide written comment, by mailing Councilmember Conlin by 5 p.m. Monday, September 17:
Councilmember Richard Conlin
PO Box 34025
Seattle WA 98124-4025
Councilmembers can also be contacted by email. So far they’ve received a dozen messages, according to Jennie: ten in support of the ordinance, and two in opposition.
The city has agreed not to take action on Jennie’s goats until the council has considered the ordinance, after which she will know whether she can keep them. These goats may be law-abiding soon. You can visit them while they are still outlaws at the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair this Saturday, September 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Meridian Park in Wallingford.
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