Livestock & Urban Barn Conversions

Aside from the abattoirs, large-scale livestock raising is foreign to an urban center like downtown Toronto. There are no barns available so existing buildings will need to be converted into barns to raise livestock in large enough quantities to supply the general population. Building new structures is unwise because of our very limited resources, although in some cases it may be necessary to dismantle existing building structures to re-use materials in building new structures (as in the case of building outhouse privies, which can’t be converted from existing structures and need to be built in specific locations).


Throughout the city there are abandoned warehouses at street level with very high ceilings and plenty of floor space. Despite the possibility of using these buildings as large-scale barns, it is not recommended to raise livestock on such a large scale because of the tendency for disease coupled with high levels of stress of the animals when dwelling in large, impersonal and less natural environments. Instead, these warehouses will make excellent storage facilities for grains and legumes, as well as other preservable foods.

Below is a list of addresses of empty buildings to potentially convert into storage warehouses. The buildings should not have used toxic substances while in operation (ie. auto body shops are unusable due to residual grease, oil, fumes and other industrial chemicals used and spilled on surfaces), and should be able to ventilate properly through windows or vents. Insulation is not important as cold temperatures help preserve foods, and good ventilation along with natural darkness and high ceilings will help keep cool in the hotter weather.

The key to housing livestock in the city is to convert the many thousand wooden structures in the city into coops and barns, using especially old sheds and garages found in most alleys throughout Toronto. Wooden structures are more breathable than more recent cinderblock and brick construction, and can be easily modified to suit the new animal tenants.

Several elements of these existing structures will need to be altered to suit the various livestock. The main common element is the need for proper ventilation, as all livestock requires fresh air and good circulation all year round. Another necessity is for the barn to be adjacent to a pasture or “run” area for the animals to roam free and forage for food. Some animals require little space, like chickens, but others require a much larger area, like sheep.

For large pasture lands connected to shed barns, look to areas like Trinity Bellwoods Park. On the northern edge, at Dundas St. West near Beatrice Ave., is a row of houses with the rears composed of sheds and garages at the laneway between the houses and the start of the park. This setup is an ideal model of many acres of pasture land with access to barn structures to house the animals at night and over winter.

To see how to convert various structures into barns and coops, see the shelter requirements for each type of livestock in the sections that follow to help assess the adaptabilities of neighbourhood structures.


Chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys are all poultry suitable for raising, though the most resourceful of these is chickens. Their meat is lean, their eggs are edible, their bones are good for soup and then can be ground for compost, and their feathers can be used for stuffing clothing and bedding.

There are three kinds of chickens: “egg” birds, “meat” birds, and “dual-purpose” birds. The best choice is the dual-purpose bird which will produce eggs for many years and then slaughtered for eating. Types of dual-purpose birds include Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, and Wyandotte. Plymouth Rock birds are a good choice for superior meat quality and good egg production.

Birds will need to be sourced from chicken farmers outside of the city, so a convoy of transporters will need to travel to a local farm to fetch mature birds and some roosters to breed with chickens and produce fertile eggs. See section 7:a for transportation and trailer options.

Unlike mammals, chickens need a special kind of barn called “coops.” Requirements for a good coop are:

- adequate floor space (3 or more square feet per bird to reduce incidence of disease and stress)
- good ventilation, no drafts
- adequate natural lighting
- safety from predators

There are numerous shacks, old wooden garages, and tool sheds in alleys throughout the city that will make perfect chicken coops with very little alteration. Choose structures that face the sun, generally pointing south. Windows will be needed (and can be installed if missing), at least 1 square foot of window space for every 10 feet of floor space. Proper ventilation is also needed due to the high moisture given off by chickens (screened windows are fine). For this, install screened vents along the eaves of the roofline that can be closed off during very cold weather.

To protect from predators, make sure the chickens are in the coop by evening and lock the door and other openings. Chicken wire is a good barrier for openings with no screen. During the day there are few predators, but it helps if there are people checking up on the flock regularly.

For flooring, spread a 6- to 8-inch thick layer of sawdust, peat moss, straw or ground corncobs along the entire surface. Stir up the flooring periodically, removing soggy spots, and adding more litter every month. Sprinkle some feed on the littler to encourage the hens to stir up and aerate the litter. Once a year in the springtime, clean out all the litter from the coop (it will have built up to around 2 feet in depth) and add straight to farm earth, as it makes an excellent fertilizer with the large amounts of guano built up in it.

The coop will require roosts, located away from windows and drafts, allowing 1 foot of space per bird. Using long, round beams of 1” or 2” diameter, place each roost 2 feet up from the ground and 1 foot between each roost.


As well as roosts, the coop will require nest boxes to be built in, one box for every 4 hens. Place them in a draft-free area at the back of the coop away from the front door. Make the boxes 14 inches square and 1 foot deep , filled with wood shavings or straw (to be changed frequently to prevent soiled eggs) and with a little roof overhead to make the chickens feel safe and deter roosting on the box edge. These should be about 2 feet from the floor with a little landing dowel in front for chickens to land on as they fly up to make their way into the next boxes.


Aside from the coop, where the chickens go to sleep, rest, and lay their eggs, they will require a large natural area, or chicken run, connected to the coop for them to run free and feed. A run is like a pen made with 6 to 10 foot high fences made of chicken wire closing in the entire outdoor area to prevent predators from entering or chickens from escaping. Bury the bottom edge of the wire to keep digging predators out.

Chickens can get up to 50% of their food supply by pecking on grass, bugs, grit, and other critters when ranging free in their outdoor pen. Always have a pan of fresh water available, elevated a little to avoid getting litter kicked into it.

There are 2 kinds of feed that is appropriate for hens: scratch feed (dry) and a mash mix (wet). Below are some formulas for each, to be measured by weight.

Combine ingredients in a sack or pail and scatter on the ground for pecking.
50% Wheat
50% Yellow corn or Oats
(supplement with some sunflower seeds or flax seeds)

MASH MIX (in lbs per 100)
Grind all ingredients into a pulp and store in covered buckets.
60 lbs Yellow corn meal
15 lbs Wheat middlings
8 lbs soybean meal (hulled)
6.5 lbs ground limestone
4 lbs fish meal
2.5 lbs alfalfa leaf meal
2.5 lbs powdered milk
1 lb bone meal
0.5 lbs iodized salt if available

For indoor feeding, build a small trough that is narrow and long enough to accommodate 4” of space per hen for each side of the trough. Cover with chicken wire to discourage birds from scratching in the feed and soiling it. Clean water must be available at all times (elevated to avoid getting litter kicked into it) and cannot be allowed to freeze in the winter. Lack of water will drastically reduce egg production. Chickens also like milk and any vegetable or grain food scraps.

Rats and mice can be a great nuisance as they love chicken feed. Keep the feed in rat-proof containers. Set out rat traps and keep cats (but protect chicks from cats). Keep dogs clear away from the henhouse or the chicken run outdoors as they love to chase and terrorize the birds. City animals that eat chickens include skunks and raccoons, and more remote animals include owls, hawks, foxes and weasels.

When deciding to butcher a bird, choose one between 3 1/2 to 5 lbs in weight, and deprive it of food, but not water, for 12 hours. Watch the roosters when stalking and catching a hen, as they will attack if harm comes to a member of the harem. Once the bird is caught, hold the bird by the legs and tie the feet together. Have a sharp axe and a chopping block (a stump works well) with 2 nails driven in and sticking up 2 inches parallel to each other and about 1 inch apart. Insert the chicken’s head between the two nails and slide the body down (the beak will stop the head and the neck will stretch). After chopping off the head, hang the bird upside-down immediately and let it bleed out completely, for about 10 minutes, then pluck off the feathers. The chicken will flap about for a while before its death.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and dip the freshly-beheaded bird in the hot water for half a minute (no longer than 60 seconds). Pluck the wings first, then the breast, body, back, legs, and finally the neck. Collect the feathers in a cloth bag. Finish off the small feathers and hair by singeing with a candle flame.

Ducks are extremely hardy and will forage for most of the food they need. What they need most is lots of open space, about 1 grassy acre for every 20 birds. To prevent overgrazing, divide the area into three sections and shift the birds from one to the other as the supply of grass dwindles. Always have plenty of fresh drinking water available, in troughs deep enough for them to submerge their entire bills. They can eat the same feed as chicken scratch (mash is not as good) as well as scrap vegetables.

There is no such thing as a dual-purpose duck; good egg layers do not produce the best meat, and good meat birds will supply very few eggs. Duck eggs have a gamier flavour than chicken eggs so these are best for baking. Meat birds will grow to 8 lbs (butchering weight) in 8-10 weeks.

Housing is similar for ducks as for chickens, but ducks do not roost so no roost beams need to be installed. They need to be weather-proof and predator-proof, and kept scrupulously clean. Ducks like to swim and bathe so it’s helpful to provide a source of bathing water that is clean and not stagnated. If no natural pond is available, old bathtubs work well but the water needs to be changed frequently to prevent disease.

Nest boxes for ducks is as for chickens but larger (15” square and 18” deep) and without a little roof. These nest boxes can be set on the floor and filled with similar material as the chickens’.


Rabbits are prolific and hardy and produce an excellent source of protein as well as fur. Rabbits are the most efficient animal to raise due to the low amount of food and care required with respect to the amount of meat they produce.

Rabbits should eat tender hay, fresh grass clippings and vegetable tops, as well as root vegetables, apples, pears, and fruit tree leaves. Plenty of fresh water changed daily is essential. Rabbits under 6 months of age should not eat much fresh greens at all.

Rabbits are fertile almost non-stop after 6 months of age. When it’s time to breed, place a female rabbit in a male rabbit’s cage (but not the other way around as female rabbits are fiercely territorial). If mating does not take place almost immediately, remove the female rabbit and try again a few days later. Check for pregnancy after 10 days by pressing the area just above the pelvis to locate small marble-sized embryos. If there are none, check one week later and rebreed if necessary. Birth occurs 31 days after conception. 5 days before the young are due, prepare a nesting box with a good supply of straw in the bottom and place in the doe’s hutch. As soon as the young are born, feed the doe high-protein food.

Each rabbit should have its own cage in a hutch set-up that protects from drafts, rain, heat and predators. Each cage should be 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep and 2 feet high with mesh walls and floors. The roof should be wood and the hutch should be placed in a shady spot.

When rabbits are 8 to 12 weeks old they are ready to be butchered, at about 4 lbs in weight. For 24 hours before butchering, do not feed the rabbit, but do provide water. To kill it, hold it upside-down by the feet and administer a sharp blow directly behind its ears, using a heavy pipe or piece of wood. Immediately hang it by the feet, cut off the head and let the blood drain out. Next, cut off the feet, then slit the skin along the back legs and center of the belly. Pull the skin back, like removing a tight glove, from the thighs towards the front legs in one piece. Carefully remove the insides, saving the liver, heart and kidneys for human consumption and the rest can be fed to dogs.


Goats are idea dairy animals due to their excellent foraging ability, moderate milk production, and nutritionally superior milk which is naturally homogenized and easily digested by humans. It’s best to keep males and females separate and only mix for breeding purposes.

Good-quality forage is all the food non-milking goats require, including a variety of leaves, branches, weeds, grasses, as well as legumes for protein. Supplement with well-cured hay in the winter. Milking does require additional protein in their diet through mixed grains of corn, oats, wheat bran and soybean oil meal. Be very careful not to overfeed grains to goats as it can cause bloat, a potentially deadly buildup of gases in the intestines. To prevent overeating of grains, only feed the grain after they’ve eaten plenty of grasses or hay. Keep a regular feeding schedule and make any dietary changes gradually. Plenty of fresh, clean water is important, especially for milking does.

A goat barn requires being draft free and well-bedded, with access to a fenced-in outdoor area for browsing and exercise. This outdoor area should have good drainage to prevent foot rot, and have access to shade and temporary shelter in case of wind and rain. Rocks, boulders and various structures provide exercise for jumping and climbing.

When does reach 18 months of age they should be bred once a year to ensure a continuous supply of milk. Breeding season begins in the fall and lasts through early spring. Signs of does coming into their 2-day-long heat (every 3 weeks) include restlessness, tail twitching, and bleating. Pregnancy lasts 5 months, and when the young are about to be born the does will have engorged udders, reduced feeding, more bleating, and white vaginal discharge.

Newborn kids must receive colostrum, the doe’s antibody-rich first milk. After that they should be separated from their mother and fed from a pan or bottle. Feed them 1/2 to 1/3 pint of milk three times daily for the first two weeks. Then gradually reduce the amount of milk and substitute grain and fresh green hay. Milk the goat for 6 months after giving birth, then it’s time to rebreed, at which point you can continue to milk for three more months but then allow the doe to dry off by stopping the daily milkings to give her a rest.

Milk at 12-hour intervals making sure the atmosphere calm and the doe is settled. Walk her onto a milking stand (low table) placing the head in a stanchion, where a bucket of grain should be waiting. Wipe the udder with a warm, moist cloth to clean the area and relaxes the muscles. Milk each teat alternately; when milk flow stops, gently massage the udder from top to bottom to stimulate flow, and milk again.

Cleanliness is essential for hygienic and good-tasting milk production. Keep the milking station away from feeding and bedding areas in the barn, keep the hairs around the udder clipped short, and keep the doe’s coat free of dirt by frequent brushing, as well as having the milker’s hands washed thoroughly.


Sheep are easy to raise because of their gentle disposition, minimal shelter needs, and they graze for almost all of their food.


Springtime is sheep shearing time. Using hand shears, cut close to the skin and remov the entire fleece in one piece. Going back over previously clipped areas is not desireable as it produces short, unuseable fibres. The animal is held in place with the shearer's legs and knees. Shear in the order shown in the illustrations.

Sheep can get all the nutrients they need from good-quality pasturage (grasses). Supplement with 1 pound of grains per day per sheep – such as oats, corn and wheat -- and unlimited hay in the winter season, making any dietary changes extremely gradual so as to avoid developing bloat, which can be deadly. In winter, always feed at the same times each day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Always provide plenty of fresh, clean water, plus a salt lick. Salt licks provided in the springtime assist in animal bone and muscle growth. To make a salt lick, make a depression in the ground around 5 feet in diameter, clearing it of
vegetation and debris. Spread approximately 30 pounds of salt on the ground, mixing in a small amount of the removed soil. Note that the creation and use of salt licks will depend on the amount of mineral salt available which is extremely limited.

One acre of pasture land containing equal parts tender grass and legumes will feed 4 sheep in one summer. To keep the land regenerating, rotate the grazing area 1/3 acre at a time, moving the sheep when the sheep have cropped the tops off the plants. Wait until mid- or late-spring before letting the sheep graze to give greens the chance to grow.

Fences are required around the pasturage, to keep out predators as much as to keep sheep in. Fences should be 4 feet high, made of medium weight wire, attached to heavy wooden posts staked 3 feet into the ground and no more than 15 feet apart. For extra security against predators, install a strand of barbed wire on the top and bottom of the wire fence.

Thanks to their thick wool coats, sheep require minimal housing and can thrive in cold weather. A three-sided shed is adequate, having at least 15 square feet of space per sheep. The floor can be dirt or concrete, but not wood, and should be covered with a foot of litter. Sheep manure is dry and can be allowed to accumulate all winter, adding warmth as well. Do change the litter if there are damp or moldy spots, otherwise once a year will do, cleaning and disinfecting the shelter at that time.


Hogs are easy to raise because they will eat almost anything, and are ready for butchering within the year.

Pigs can be fed leftover produce, table scraps, or an oversupply of crops or goat’s milk, and are also fine grazing from the pasture. Up to 6 pigs can forage on 1 acre of high-quality pasture including clover, grass and alfalfa. Rotate the pigs on 1/3 or 1/4 of the pasture at a time to allow the field to regenerate. Grains including corn, oats, barley and rye are a good supplement to the pigs’ diet. When feeding leftovers, they must be processed first by picking through the food to remove inedible items, chicken bones and pork scraps. Cook the scraps for 30 minutes to destroy any bacteria.

For each pound of weight gained by a pig, it must eat 3 pounds of feed. A pig is ready for butchering when it reaches a weight of 220 pounds in the fall. Follow the diet described above, feeding 2 to 4 pounds of grain per pig per day, to acquire a good weight gain.

Hogs have a hard time keeping cool, so to provide shelter from the sun while allowing the pigs to roam outside, create a moveable shelter that sits on the field and can be dragged to other areas when the pasture needs to regenerate. It’s best to set the shelter under trees in shaded areas.

Fencing is also necessary to keep the hogs in and predators out. Strong wire fencing is needed for 220 pound hogs, which can bust through weaker structures. One pig needs at least 100 square feet of space for roaming . Set posts 3 feet deep, with a strand of barbed wire 3 inches above the ground so the hogs don’t try to burrow under the wire fence.

Read the next section, Wild Food...

1 comment:

anne said...

Can you please describe the butchering times and methods for sheep and cows. Also the method for pigs. Are there specific methods for gutting mammals (pigs, sheep, cows) that should be followed?