March 2, 2022: State and Federal agricultural officials have confirmed a positive case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. The virus was found in a non-commercial, backyard poultry flock. Read More
From chickens to bees, raising your own livestock can be a challenging yet rewarding source of fresh food.
Why raise animals, insects and fish for food? Eggs provide a great source of protein. Chicken and other vegetarian/omnivore manure makes great compost for growing fruits and vegetables. Raising hens diverts food and yard waste away from the landfill. Bees are struggling and need a safe, urban environment to thrive. Honey is a wonderful, local sweetener.
Read below to learn more about what it takes to raise livestock in Des Moines.
Bees Back to Top
There is nothing in municipal code regulating bees, but it's a good idea to register your hives with the State of Iowa at beecheck.org. The City uses this registry to help protect apiaries when conducting mosquito control efforts.
Housing and Maintenance EquipmentHere's what you'll need to get started and maintain a colony of bees:
- Hive boxes, bottom board, a reducer, top cover, inner cover
- Frames with a comb base (base can be wax or plastic)
- Feeder for syrup
- Water source
- A bee suit or jacket, hat/veil, gloves
- Basic Tools: smoker, bee brush, a hive tool or a J-hook, a frame grabber
- Spring and winter pollen patties (may be needed at different times)
- Sugar syrup (can be made easily with 1:1 or 2:1 sugar to water)
- Jars, lids, labels
- Equipment for melting/processing wax
- Storage space for extra hive boxes and frames
- A sturdy set of shelves in the basement or garage can suffice
- Should be rodent free and weather tight
- Mite management equipment for checking and for treating
HarvestTo collect, spin, and jar up honey:
- You'll need a way to break open the comb to collect the honey. Some people use a hot knife specifically made to melt the capping wax. Others just use a fork to score the comb open.
- The next step is getting the honey out, usually done by spinning the frames in a specially made tank that has cages for the frames and spins, thus using centrifugal force to pull the honey out of the comb. It drips down the side of the tank and then through a spigot in the bottom where it can be strained and poured into jars.
- Purchasing this equipment can be a pricey investment, above the comfort level of a hobbyist. Use your local beekeeping networks to find help with this process and/or find equipment for rent.
- For information on folks who may come spin your honey for you, contact the State Apiarist, Andrew Joseph, the Iowa Humane Alliance, the Central Iowa Beekeepers Association or the Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers.
- Varroa mites
- Extreme weather (both cold and heat)
- Spray drift
- Preventing swarms
- Neighbors afraid of being stung
- Cost of equipment
- Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship classes
- Johnston Community Education/Adult Classes, taught by Julia McGuire
- Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers
- Central Iowa Beekeepers Association
- Treehugger Online Classes
Local and Regional Bee and Equipment Suppliers
- Bell Farms, Runnells
- Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, IL
- Foley’s Russian Bees, Indianola
- Golden Ridge Honey Farm, Cresco
- Holton Homestead, Elkhart
- K & H Bee Farm, Perry
- Lappe's Bee Supply and Honey Farm, East Peru
- Spring Valley Honey Farms, Perry
- Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers Facebook Group
- Andrew Joesph, State Apiarist
- Iowa Honey Producers Association
- Central Iowa Beekeepers Association
- ISU Extension
- Local and Regional Beekeepers (see previous)
Chickens Back to Top
HPAI Update: The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship recommends that all bird owners (commercial and backyard producers) should practice good biosecurity to prevent the spread of avian influenza. Visit the USDA website to learn how to best defend your flock.
When it comes to raising chickens within Des Moines city limits, most of the regulations exist in Section 18 of municipal code.
(C54, § 5-2.01; O.5785; C62, § 5-2.01; C75, C79, C91, § 7-4)
- No horse, cow, calf, swine, sheep, goat, llama, camel, ostrich, peacock, chicken, goose, duck or other agricultural animal or any nondomestic animal shall be kept within the city's corporate limits on any lot or parcel of land unless such parcel of land shall be an acreage, except as provided under subsections (f), (g) and (h) of this section and article IV of this chapter. The area where any such animal is kept on the acreage shall be 75 feet from any neighboring residential dwelling and not located in a front yard area. The keeping of bees in hives is exempted from this section.
- No such animal shall be kept on the same lot or premises with any multiple dwelling.
- Not more than two such animals may be kept on an acreage, except that one additional animal may be added for each additional acre over one acre. An exception is made for fowl, which may be 25 in number per acre and 50 for each additional acre.
- Any animal kept on an acreage shall be kept for personal use only and not for commercial use except as provided in subsections (f) and (g) of this section.
- No person having the care of any cow or cattle of any kind, horse, swine, goat or other animal, domestic or nondomestic, shall permit the animal to run at large as defined in subsection 18-55(a) of this chapter within the corporate limits.
- Subsections (a), (b), and (d) of this section shall not be deemed to prohibit the keeping or maintaining of any animal which was legally kept upon any land on June 25, 2009, provided no additional animals to those legally kept upon such date shall be placed upon any land on or after June 26, 2009, and any animal which dies, is removed or ceases to be kept or maintained under this section may not be replaced as long as the total number of animals kept exceeds the number allowable under this Code. In order to establish a right to keep animals under this subsection, a person having control over land must make application to the community development department on or before June 30, 2010, upon forms to be provided by the department. To establish that animals were legally kept on land on June 25, 2009, the community development director or the director's designee may make reasonable requests, including a request to inspect land, to verify any claim of exemption.
- Subsection (f) of this section notwithstanding, the keeping of animals for commercial or agricultural purposes which was lawful on June 25, 2009, may continue so long as the commercial or agricultural use is not discontinued. In order to establish a right to keep animals for agricultural or commercial purposes under this subsection, a person having control of the land must make application to the community development department on or before June 30, 2010, upon forms to be provided by the department. To establish that animals were legally kept for agricultural or commercial purposes on June 25, 2009, the community development director or the director's designee may make reasonable requests, including a request to inspect land, to verify the claim of exemption.
- Small caged animals and fowl such as falcons, pigeons, pheasants, quail, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, ferrets and other small animals and fowl which are of such type and nature that state and national associations exist establishing norms for breeding, confining and rearing shall be allowed, provided that:
- Cages, hutches, coops, cotes, lofts or other confinement shall be at least 25 feet away from any neighboring residence; such enclosures shall be of sufficient size to house the number of animals or fowl permitted by state or national standards.
- The area is maintained free of odors, insects and rodents, and disturbing noises such as crowing, cackling and gobbling, causing no safety or health hazards to the general public or interfering with the enjoyment of life and property by any neighboring resident.
- Animals and fowl included in this subsection shall be fed in the confines of their enclosures; all grains and food shall be stored in rodentproof containers.
- On any parcel of land less than an acre, such animals shall be limited to two species and 30 in total number, unless by state and national standards more are permitted.
- On any parcel of land of one acre or more, such animals shall be limited to six species and 50 in total number for the first acre and 50 for each additional acre, unless by state and national standards more are permitted.
- No animal or fowl under this subsection may be maintained, enclosed or fenced in the front yard of a dwelling or within a dwelling.
- The young produced by any animals or fowl of this nature may be maintained with the parent animals for a period of approximately eight weeks but in no case more than ten weeks, unless by state and national standards a longer period is required.
- Nothing in subsection (f), (g) or (h) of this section shall be construed as abrogating any requirement in this Code which requires the licensing or permitting of any animal or the keeping thereof.
- Except as provided in subsection (f), (g) or (h) of this section, this article shall apply to all persons harboring, any animal in a manner not consistent with this article.
- Animals inclusive of fowl maintained for educational purposes by schools, day care centers, vocational agricultural programs and for other public education programs; animals inclusive of fowl maintained for display at Blank Park Zoo, state and county fairs, science center, circuses; primates maintained for research or educational programs by the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary; and the bringing in of such animals and fowl on a temporary basis for exhibits or shows are exempt from this section, provided all other requirements under this Code are met.
- Any person presently owning or maintaining animals that are not in compliance with this chapter may make application to the city manager or the manager's designee for a variance, provided such application meets the following conditions:
- The keeping of such animals has been of long-standing duration, that is, in excess of three years, or is presently under commercial contract.
- The area where such animals are maintained is so located as to cause no safety or health hazards to the general public or interferes with the enjoyment of life and property by any neighboring resident.
- Domestic poultry and fowl, that is poultry and fowl ordinarily raised for production of eggs or meat, not to exceed two in number considered together, maintained at all times in a pen and/or coop.
- The young produced by any pets permitted herein may be maintained with the parent animals for a period of approximately eight weeks but in no case longer than ten weeks.
(C91, § 7-54; O.11,730, 15,819)
(C42, § 42-1.12; O.5024; C54, C62, § 46-14; C75, C79, § 13-76; O.9830; C91, § 13-76)
In summary, Des Moines residents are allowed to have up to 25 birds. Both chickens and ducks are included as "game birds."
- Building your coop
- Buying a new coop
- Shopping for a used coop
PurchasesWhere to get feed:
- Blue Stem Enterprises, Webster City
- Bomgaars, Des Moines
- Des Moines Feed & Nature Center, Des Moines
- Farm & City Supply, Des Moines
- Griffieon Family Farm, Ankeny
- Rooster issues
- Broiler chickens
- Hawks and owls
- Raccoons and possums
- Loose dogs and cats
- Gape worm
- Integrated pest management
- Story County Vet Clinic (Dr. Kim Houlding)
- ISU Extension disease reporting
- Des Moines Backyard Chicken and Poultry Facebook Group
- Iowa Chickens and Poultry Facebook Group
- Iowa Urban Chicken and Poultry Farmers Facebook Group
- Iowa Chickens Facebook Group
- ISU Extension - Small Farm Sustainability eCourses
- ISU Extension - Establishing a Backyard Poultry Flock
- Nextdoor Des Moines Area Chicken Keepers
- Selling eggs, if you have excess
- State of Iowa’s Egg Quality Assurance Program
- Farmers’ Market and Direct to consumers - no IDALS License needed
- Butchering spent hens
- Importance of chickens for compost
From ISU Extension - Iowa Poultry Slaughter, Processing and Sales Guidelines for Small Scale Producers
“1,000-bird exemption: The 1,000-bird limit is only for birds raised, slaughtered, and sold on a producer’s farm and are for sale only to household consumers. If choosing this exemption, complete and accurate records of birds processed in a calendar year must be maintained, including customers’ names and dates. Poultry processed under this exemption cannot be sold to restaurants, institutions, or retail outlets (including farmers markets).”
If you're planning to sell extra eggs or meat (if raising broilers), make sure you're familiar with FDA requirements and the licensure required from IDALS.
Meat lockers in the area are full right now and booked until next year. Butchering comes with its own challenges, although mobile abattoirs or mobile slaughtering stations/houses are an option.
Ducks Back to Top
When it comes to raising ducks within Des Moines city limits, most of the regulations are identical to raising chickens and exist in Section 18 of municipal code.
- Nest on the ground
- Need wider openings
- Less-steep ramps
- Murray McMurray
- Des Moines Feed and Nature
- Muddy (ducks don't mind, but people and other pets/poultry do)
- Aspergillosis (because they’re so wet and messy)
Fish Back to Top
Iowa Code Chapter 481A requires anyone who, for commercial purposes, “rears or maintains live animals or plants for food, bait, or for stocking in waters of the state,” to obtain an aquaculture units license from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
- Dechlorinated water source
Goats Back to Top
When it comes to raising goats within Des Moines city limits, you are currently limited to three pygmy goats. Most of the regulations are similar to raising chickens and exist in Section 18 of municipal code.
- Fencing needs to be very secure
Pigs Back to Top
When it comes to raising pigs within Des Moines city limits, you are currently limited to three Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. Most of the regulations are similar to raising chickens and exist in Section 18 of municipal code.
- Very smart and require special consideration
Rabbits Back to Top
When it comes to raising rabbits within Des Moines city limits, most of the regulations are similar to raising chickens and exist in Section 18 of municipal code.
- Rabbits not to exceed three in number, maintained in a hutch or other type of enclosure.
There are lots of possible designs, and the City Code doesn’t place any limits on one’s structure. This video from Great Cove Adventures is short and instructive: How to Build a Rabbit Hutch - Cheap and Easy
Here’s a good resource for details on supplies needed to raise rabbits: Routines, Tools and Equipment for Raising Rabbits
To sum it up, you'll need:
- Food and water dispensers
- Bedding materials
- Feed scoop (which you can make from a plastic milk jug)
- Food storage bin
- Long-sleeve shirt and gloves (rabbits will scratch you!)
- Dog nail clipper, or an old toenail clipper
- Garden tools for removing manure and adding to compost bins
- Heat lamp (depending on hutch design)
- Skinning or "boning" knife
You can purchase rabbits from these local suppliers:
This link from Maine Extension has detail on diseases and other health concerns rabbit raisers need to consider. The site contains a lot of other valuable information, too.
Locally, there are veterinarians who can help: Story County Veterinary Clinic (Dr. Kim Houlding)
OpportunitiesBack to Top
Local programs and events to help you raise animals will be added to this page over time. Check back soon for more information!
FAQ Back to Top
Share your questions with the Food Security Task Force as this online resource continues to grow.