How to be a good neighbor in urban agriculture

Keeping coops and hutches scrupulously clean, particularly along property lines, is respectful of neighbors’ environmental quality. (Maureen Gilmer/TNS)

Keeping coops and hutches scrupulously clean, particularly along property lines, is respectful of neighbors’ environmental quality. (Maureen Gilmer/TNS)

With the retirement of buggy horses in the city a century ago, the mess, smell and flies suddenly declined. Eventually ordinances were drafted to gradually purge the urban world of farm animals, solving a multitude of problems they caused in high density areas. Today these old ways of thinking are challenged by urban agriculture aficionados who are bringing chickens and other livestock into the city.

Problems arise when neighbors have different feelings about the subject. Other conflicts are driven by novices who inadvertently create big problems next door, unknown to the animal owner. Be responsible and aware of others on all sides of your home or lot. Practice these rules of urban agriculture to help the entire community get along.


Your chicken coop can introduce fly populations to your neighbor’s yard as well as your own. Control them naturally and free of chemicals by introducing tiny insects that prey on fly larvae, greatly reducing their reproductive capacity in your yard and pens. Bio control is applied every month with live bugs in the mail from any of the suppliers online such as Fly Predators,, a well proven brand accepted by the equine industry.


Manure isn’t just manure; it’s urine, too. It soaks into the ground and becomes concentrated odor source. This odor draws insects from miles around seeking a nice soft manure to lay their eggs. Prompt removal of all manure each day and efforts to keep pens dry with sand or disposable absorbent bedding can significantly reduce both odor and flies.


Even the most well sexed girl chicks may have a rooster among them. This bird is said to cause more marital conflicts than any other in the world. Roosters crow day and night. They grow spikes on their legs and attack egg gatherers. Some chicken breeds have very aggressive roosters. Don’t wait; remove him before your neighbors call the police.


Where there are animal feeds, there are rodents. Mice and rats reproduce prodigiously on farms, and urban agriculture is not exempt. With roof rats common in cities, they’ll be lured by the animals to your yard and will remain there if they find an available food source. Mice can easily get through chicken wire so do not think coop interiors will be protected.


Whether it’s a hard rain or you’re washing out your animal enclosures, all the residues of animal life will become part of this runoff solution. If your water runs under the fence to the neighbor, that homeowner may not like the results. Seeds, urine and manure dissolved in solution containing E. coli and a variety of other unsavory organisms will end up in the gutter, storm drain or your neighbor’s herb garden on the other side of the fence.

What often starts with a laying hen or a backyard rabbit can gradually expand into a whole barnyard of pets. It is well known that horse people stop smelling their animals after a while, as their noses become accustomed to what they consider a comforting animal odor. To everyone else, horse keeping odors are just the same as a pig farm next door. Animal people tend to overlook the difference as they also become accustomed to their own barnyard smells.

Flies bites are a health risk. Odors lure the flies in ever greater numbers. The combined noises of everyday animal activity can be hell on someone who works nights. And ultimately manure production and its perpetual removal become too demanding for busy working folks.

When an urban agriculture yard gradually becomes more fetid, the usual pests will gather there. If you’re unlucky enough to have a secret spa get away next door, you may opt for room fresheners and a screen tent to mitigate irritating discomforts from all that environmental pollution next door.


Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at