Being Informed: Legal Issues on the Homestead

There are several things to consider before you begin the process of raising livestock for your own family consumption. What are my county zoning restrictions? If I live in a subdivision, what are my subdivision land restrictions? Can I process my animals on site, or do I have to use a USDA or FDA regulated butchering operation? What are the costs/fees associated with the mandated processing requirements?

My husband and I dream of the day when we have free range eggs and raw milk for breakfast, pasture raised chicken for lunch and grass fed lamb for dinner. The joy of consuming the produce from your own land is incredibly rewarding, and I say that only having raised chickens for eggs and gardened at this point.

The fact is, as a Christian, I care about what my neighbors think. Not from an “earn their approval” standpoint, but from a “would I have objections to my neighbors doing something right next door” kind of thing. I don’t want to take on a project, even if it is perfectly legal, that would cause contention between my family and our neighbors.

The last thing I need is a Neighbor who’s never witnessed a chicken being culled to call and press charges against me for animal cruelty. I fully and completely believe in humane butchering practices, and will not deviate from that in my own homesteading. But the fact remains, my husband and I are already the neighborhood weirdos (unless you count the neighbors 4 doors down with chickens AND a rooster). And all it takes for someone to freak out is to be confronted by something they don’t know or understand.

That said, today I made some calls and would recommend anyone looking to start their livestock endeavors to do the same.

First on the list was the county’s planning and zoning commission. They have the information on the zone of your property and what is deemed reasonable and acceptable use of that property. We’re zoned rural residential and therefore, they do not regulate our individual agricultural practices. Hallelujah!

The issue isn’t raising the animals we want to raise, the issue is whether or not we meet the requirements for on site butchering/ processing, or if we would have to go off-site to a designated facility. That would mean transportation of livestock to the facility, fees and cost of having someone else process the animals, and whether or not a larger entity would even take on such a small scale processing project. If we can process on our own property, that means we avoid having to have a trailer or other such animal transportation equipment, among other things. Seeing as we only plan to use our poultry for personal consumption, we don’t foresee any issues with packaging requirements, but again, if we have to go off site, that’s something to consider as well as the storage and transportation of the finished product. Knowing and following all of the prescribed health and safety regulations is vital, especially if you’re looking to sell your farm’s produce. Raising for personal consumption is one thing, but when you bring someone else’s health and money in to the equation, government entities get involved. No one wants your grass fed, pastured poultry if it comes at the cost of salmonella.

The next step is finding out whether your specific subdivision has restrictions on land usage or auxiliary buildings. This merited a call to the county Register’s office. When we looked at purchasing our home, we wanted at least 5 acres on which we could raise chickens and/or ducks and goats/sheep, with the ability to expand further should we so choose. We fell into “unrestricted land” for agricultural use, but there are certain stipulations on auxiliary buildings. The County Register’s office holds information on subdivision restrictions regarding what you can and cannot raise or what you can or cannot build on your property. So if I can raise dairy goats, but can’t build my future hypothetical goats a shelter, it would be imprudent to raise them. Are you following me? Having plenty of broilers for the freezer but not being allowed to build a facility or outbuilding to house a walk-in freezer in which to store them makes the former a moot point.

And finally, contact your local extension office! They are sources of infinite information and every individual involved in my experience has had the heart of a teacher. The extension is there to educate you and equip you. My husband and I plan on taking a course (for free, people! Doesn’t get any more accessible than free!) on backyard poultry later this month, offered by the county extension office. They also have programs related to 4H to get your kids involved, and master gardener programs. I really cannot recommend this source enough as a wellspring of information and community networking to delve into before you begin your livestock endeavors.

It’s all about playing ball, legally speaking. If I go through the process of gathering all the legal information, adhering to regulations, following proper protocol and procedures for acquiring and housing and processing all of my animals, then I have nothing to fear when a neighbor who thinks it’s yucky or objectionable because they go to Kroger for their meat, tries to levy accusations regarding legality of practices. Because I will have already ensured that our operations are consistent with the enforcable laws of our subdivision, county, and state. Not just that, but it sets your entire Homestead up for success by ensuring you’re law abiding citizens and no one else’s rights to peaceful residential areas are being infringed upon.

HOAs are a whole different ball game, one in which I’m not willing to play, which is why I thank the Good Lord daily for bringing us to a place free of a Home owners’ association. That said, it would be wise if you are subject to HOA policies to call for approval and know your legal rights and responsibilities before endeavoring to raise livestock in what I call a “bourgeoise” (or more affectionately, “bourge-nosy”) neighborhood. Some people still prefer pesticide laden, manicured lawns to organically grown produce.

Part of being a responsible homesteader or human being in general, is being informed not only on what the applicable laws are regarding your homestead, but being informed on your rights as an American citizen in pursuit of a better way to do food and life.

Back to Eden Garden, Spring 2017

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