Cooperative Extension Bulletin E353

Michael Westendorf, Extension Specialist in Livestock and Dairy

Bob Mickel, Retired Hunterdon County and Regional Livestock Agent

Carey Williams, Extension Specialist in Equine Management

I. Introduction and Definitions

The purpose of these guidelines is to assist citizens and local government officials in establishing criteria for the management of domestic livestock on private residential property within the municipality.

These guidelines are not criteria for the management of commercial agriculture which is more intensive and continuous in nature.

Residential keeping of livestock is defined as:

The husbandry of domestic livestock and their products for home use or consumption including breeding, feeding, raising, caring, and housing. Any sales are minor and incidental.

Domestic livestock means horses, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, rabbit, poultry, fowl, and furbearing animals excluding household pets.

The key concepts are “home-use or consumption.” A municipal zoning ordinance permitting residential animal agriculture might include the following language:

Livestock may be kept in the residential zone provided animal numbers, as well as care and management, reasonably conform to currently recommended animal husbandry management practices established by Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. All livestock in New Jersey must be raised in conditions to meet or exceed the standards set by N.J.A.C. 2:8 – Humane Treatment of Domestic Livestock. All items in these guidelines meet or exceed the minimum standards.

There may be pre-existing “domestic livestock” already present in residential areas within a municipality. It is presumed that these can continue, provided they are conducted within the recommended guidelines.

A: Basis for Recommendation

The management recommendations established in this document represent the best collective professional judgment and opinion of a select committee of faculty of Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA). Keepers of domestic livestock in residential areas and their neighbors should have reasonable use of their properties which is the goal of these recommendations.

The following criteria should be considered:

B: General Waste Management

All farms, regardless of size, are required to comply with the General Requirements of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Management regulations (N.J.A.C. 2.91 et seq.). “Farm” means parcels of land where livestock is housed, kept, stabled, confined, fed, or otherwise maintained or any parcel that receives or applies animal waste. A farm may include parcels owned, leased, or otherwise available to a person.

The General Requirements are:

  1. Agricultural animal operations shall not allow animals in confined areas to have uncontrolled access to waters of the State.
  2. Manure storage areas must be 100 feet from waters of the State, and on slopes less than 5 percent.
  3. Land application of animal waste shall be performed in accordance with the principles of the NJDA Best Management Practices (BMP) Manual.
  4. Dead animals and related animal waste resulting from a reportable contagious disease or an act of bioterrorism shall not be disposed of without first contacting the State Veterinarian.
  5. Any person entering a farm to conduct official business related to these rules shall follow bio-security protocol.

This is not a general requirement – Some farms may be required to submit Animal Waste Management Plans (AWMP) in accordance with the regulations. It is anticipated that most residential animal agriculture operations will fall below animal unit thresholds.

For questions about Animal Waste Management compliance, please see the following websites: NJAES Animal Waste Management information or Animal Waste Regulations from New Jersey Dept. of Agriculture. Or, you may want to contact your local Rutgers Cooperative Extension county office. Residential animal agriculture farms with less than 8 animal units (one Animal Unit is equal to 1,000 pounds of live weight) are not required but are encouraged to submit an AWMP.

Animal manure may be of concern in residential zones. In small volumes, fresh manure has fewer odors and is relatively free of flies. Proper management can prevent annoyance to neighbors. Manure generally produces more odors and may attract flies when it accumulates. Proper manure management is the key.

During cold months and with ample bedding materials and good management, odors and flies can be controlled. As weather moderates, odors and flies develop. Dry interior stalls should be maintained. Mud should be controlled in outside areas. Manure should be removed regularly from interior housing or exterior lots.

Manure can be handled as follows:

  1. Regular placement in a plastic garbage bag, tightly closed, for periodic removal from the premises with normal garbage collection or stored for later use. Stored manure should not accumulate for more than three weeks.
  2. Immediately incorporate manure into the soil of a garden, but not as surface mulch. (Incorporation is essential to reduce flies and odors).
  3. Manure can be composted to reduce odors or fly breeding. Composted manure can be used in gardens or flower beds (must be incorporated in the soil). Neighbors may be interested in using compost on their gardens or flower beds. A static or unturned manure pile is not composting. Please see Rutgers Bulletin E307, Best Management Practices for Horse Manure Composting on Small Farms about the proper composting of manure on small farms.
  4. Manure can be stored in a covered, well-drained storage area, located 50 feet or more from the property line until manure can be managed as described above. See more information at: NJAES Animal Waste Management.

C: Humane Care

The State of New Jersey established minimum standards for the humane treatment of domestic livestock. These standards address feeding, watering, keeping, marketing and sale, and care and treatment of domestic livestock. These rules can be accessed at Contact the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Division of Animal Health for questions regarding these rules.

II. General Recommendations for Animals (Numbers, Care, and Management)

A. Animal Units

One animal unit means 1,000 pounds of live body weight (see Tables 1–4). The animal unit can be used to determine animal density, exercise, and food requirements. It may also be useful in determining special requirements for animal housing. The following tables give some guidelines for establishing animal units.

B. Large Animals (Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Swine)

Lot size: The minimum lot size will vary based on animal units and management. Well-managed locations may have higher animal densities than more marginal areas. To determine appropriate animal density, utilize resources from Rutgers Cooperative Extension and/or the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

For a specific description of animal units by livestock category, see Table 1.

Large and medium-sized domesticated animals need exercise and living space compatible with their age and size.

An outside lot, when used to provide exercise grazing, should be fenced to ensure animal and human safety and minimize the possibility of property damage. Exterior fence lines should be made of appropriate materials and be at least 48 inches in height with posts no more than ten (10) feet apart.

Fencing materials should be selected to contain an area while minimizing potential injury based on the species, number, age, and temperament of the animals on the premises and the amount of land fenced. The fenced lot should be located and managed to minimize mud and surface drainage to prevent any standing water from accumulating. Lots should not be extended in proximity to waterways.

Table 1. Animal units for specific livestock categories

All species require adequate provisions for drainage. All confined, domesticated animals should have shelter to protect from rain, wind, and to provide shade.

The floor should prevent slipping and allow for the bedding to be routinely dry.

When an exterior lot is accessible, adequate indoor shelter should still be provided. If no exterior lot is provided, the indoor shelter must meet animal requirements.

Livestock should have daily access to water to provide for the animal’s physiological demands. This can be evaluated by the animal’s hydration status.

A building for housing large animals should be 50 feet from the property line unless there are existing impediments to modify this setback.

Suggested designs for structures are available through Rutgers Cooperative Extension. More design information is available through the Midwest Plan Service.

C. Poultry (Chickens, Ducks, Turkeys, Geese, and Game Birds Such as Pheasants; Quail, Peafowl, and Guinea Fowl)

The animal unit used for large domestic animals can be adapted for small animals. Chickens are the most prevalent fowl in residential agriculture. An adult chicken weighs approximately eight pounds; therefore, one animal unit is equivalent to 125 chickens (layers, fryers, broilers, etc.) see calculations for other species in Table 2. It is unlikely that any home agriculture operation with poultry will have more than a fraction of an acre.

Larger fowl such as turkeys, ducks, and geese can also be adapted to animal units. Geese and ducks produce wetter manure; this will need to be considered when managing poultry manure.

Management Recommendations for Residential (Home) Flocks

A small flock of fowl may be confined to cages or raised on a conventional litter floor with or without access to an outside yard. Cages must be of sufficient size to allow each bird to stand upright in the cage without having its head protrude through the top of the cage, lie down, get up, walk, spread its wings, move its head freely, turn around, and rest. Bantams may be allotted one-half of the floor space recommended for standard size breeds. Turkeys, ducks, and geese should be provided 5 to 6 square feet of floor space per bird, depending on the size of the bird.

Although poultry may be raised entirely under cover with no access to the outside, some home operators may want to provide an outside lot or poultry yard. The birds’ environment must provide relief from the elements, such as excessive wind, excessive temperature, and excessive precipitation, which may result in hyperthermia or hypothermia detrimental to the birds’ health. Turkeys, ducks, and geese require a yard size 50 percent larger than that for chickens. More broilers, fryers, etc. can be accommodated with no additional yard or house space, provided sanitary conditions are met. If birds have access to a wired porch, similar square footage should be provided.

Table 2. Poultry Bird Units for Use With Home Animal Agriculture

The yard should be fenced to protect the birds by preventing dogs and other predators from entering. Birds should have some foraging space; they need grit for their gizzard and like eating weeds. The yard should provide an environment that minimizes the risk of injury to the bird. The yard should be free of debris, weeds, and standing water and suitably screened with shrubbery or other appropriate visual screens for aesthetic purposes. The yard should be 25 feet from neighboring property lines and should be set back from the roadway. Outside fenced lots may require overhead fencing or cover to prevent predator access.

Given the many variables involved such as: 1) location, 2) type of management system to be followed, 3) nature of the surrounding area, 4) types of birds to be raised, etc., some situations should be reviewed with experts in agriculture. The county agricultural agent may be able to assist.

Poultry Manure Management

With a conventional flooring system, desirable housing conditions can be maintained through a deep litter management program. Litter, consisting of dry absorbent material such as straw, wood sawdust, shavings, or a pelleted wood or straw can be added to the floor at a depth of 4 to 6 inches. After 3 applications, the housing area should be cleaned.

The absorbent action, which takes place between the litter and the poultry droppings that accumulate daily, should result in dry floor conditions which will minimize flies and/or odors. When properly managed, litter floors need to be cleaned only once a year.

Dropping boards beneath roosting areas and cages, where manure accumulates, must be cleaned every 3 to 5 days.

Poultry manure can be applied to the soil in a vegetable garden. The application rate should not exceed 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet (½ pound per 10 square feet) once every three months. Manure should be incorporated into the soil and not used on the surface as mulch. It may be composted or stored as outlined under the Animal Waste Management section.

D. Pigeons

Pigeons are typically confined to a “fly loft” (a screened exercise area for pigeons) which includes an interior roosting area where pigeons are sheltered from the weather. The loft may or may not allow pigeons to have contact with the ground. Pigeons, when properly maintained, are compatible with small residential lots. Lots as small as one-fourth acre are acceptable as a minimum for raising pigeons. It is recommended that the “fly loft” be at least 25 feet from the property line.

Pigeon manure should be handled like poultry manure. It can be a valuable organic fertilizer additive for use in gardening. The application rate should not exceed 500 pounds per 1,000 square feet once every three months.

E. Rabbits

Rabbits are generally confined in cages with wire bottom floors. Typically, a rabbit is provided an exercise area made of wire that is exposed to the outside and has a wire bottom through which the manure falls to the ground or in dropping pans. In addition, they are provided with individual boxes to protect them from weather and for security and seclusion. The entire structure, which is referred to as a hutch, is raised off the ground for security, ease in caring for the rabbits, and to provide enough space to clean under the cage. It is recommended that hutches are at least 25 feet from property lines. A recommended cage size is 36″ X 30″ X 18″ high. A cage with two partitions can accommodate three 4-pound rabbits; without partitions, one 12-pound rabbit.

Table 3. Rabbits

Manure must be cleaned every 3 to 5 days and handled in a similar manner as described for poultry. Some rabbit producers have an earthworm pit beneath the cage. Earthworms use this organic matter. This practice is acceptable if properly managed, and can provide a continuous source of fishing worms during the warm season months. Cages should be properly ventilated.

F. Exotic animals

There are several exotic animals that may be living in a residential setting. Llamas and alpacas can be managed like sheep and goats (see Table 1), and emus can be managed like the larger species of poultry (see Table 2). All three can be housed in outside lots, provided there is shelter for protection from the weather.

Llamas are not considered to be exotic animals but are noted here because they are managed like an alpaca. Manure must be cleaned every 3 to 5 days and handled in a manner as described in previous sections.

Table 4. Exotic species

G. Assistance

More information and/or assistance with these recommended guidelines are available through Rutgers Cooperative Extension county offices, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources, and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Division of Animal Health.

September 2020