Audrey Pavia
November 14, 2011


Photo by Audrey Pavia

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A view of the horse stalls on my small urban farm.

Whenever I ride around the equestrian community where I live, I get a severe case of property envy. Some people around here managed to score anywhere from 3 to 5 acres for their urban farms. I, on the other hand, make due with a mere 1/2 acre.

A 1/2 acre is a lot of land in suburban Southern California. My friends in condos think I live on a huge spread. And I guess I do, compared to the postage stamps they call backyards. But when you have farm animals, a 1/2 acre is pretty tight.

When I first moved in here, I had all kinds of fantasies for my urban farm. It was the first time I’d lived anywhere you could legally keep livestock, so my imagination ran wild. I’d have horses, of course, and also goats, chickens and ducks. Maybe I’d even have a sheep or a miniature donkey. Why not? I lived on a farm now, after all!

But it wasn’t long before reality set in. I soon discovered that my 1/2 acre was made up of a significant amount of unusable slope. It also had a huge detached garage smack in the middle of the backyard. This certainly limited the amount of workable land I had at my disposal. Then we needed a patio, so some of the space was allotted to that. After that, we had to put in a lawn for our Corgi, naturally. (He grew up with a lawn and wouldn’t know where to pee without one.)

When all was said and done, my 1/2 acre came to a lot less than that. I had room for three 12-by-24-foot pipe corrals for my horses, a wash rack, small tack shed and a tiny chicken coop — so much for goats and sheep. And what was I going to do with a miniature donkey back there? It’s not like he’d have a big pasture to roam in; he’d be cooped up in a tiny stall all the time; it didn’t seem right.

After getting the horses and the chickens, the yard suddenly seemed packed to the gills. I didn’t want to be like some of the other folks in my town who had so many animals jammed onto their small lots that it looked like they lived in a zoo rather than on an urban farm. Quality of life was important — not just to me, but to my animals.

I decided to limit my animal crew to three — now two — horses and a handful of bantams. The dog has plenty of room to run around (and a lawn for peeing), and the cats and the bunnies stay in the house.

This arrangement works well. I’m not overwhelmed with animals, and my property is able to handle the wear and tear of this small group fairly well. Of course, I still dream of the day when I’ll have enough land for all the barnyard critters I want, but until then, I’ll find a way to be content with my 1/2 acre. After all, it sure beats living in a condo.

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