|A Delaware pullet, which is a rare breed|
I wish animal activists realized they are hurting chickens far more than they are helping them when they try to talk people out of having backyard hens. The vast majority of Americans are not going to become vegans, so if they don't have backyard hens, they will be buying eggs from the supermarket -- eggs that probably (95% likely) came from a factory farm where the chickens have their beaks cut off and are kept in small cramped cages and never see the sun or chase a bug across the grass.
I've listed a few quotes from the article that present some of the worst misinformation, followed by my response with the correct information.
- "hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer"
- "raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive."
- "some 225 former backyard chickens are waiting now for new homes"
Unfortunately, modern humans are so far away from our food roots that I have heard too many people say that old hens are not good to eat. Argh!!! Even Julia Child said that old hens provided the best broth. Slow cooking an old hen with plenty of water, over a low heat, for a few hours makes a delicious, tender meat that can be used in soups, casseroles, and salads.
- "People entranced by a 'misplaced rural nostalgia' are buying chickens
from the same hatcheries that supply the nation's largest poultry
producers and rearing them without proper space, food or veterinary
care, she said.
"The most commonly available hens have been bred to be good egg layers. At the same time, backyard farmers often use enhanced feed, light or other tools to prompt hens to lay constantly. After keeping up that pace for 18 months to two years, however, hens often develop reproductive problems including oviduct diseases that can kill them, veterinarians say. However, healthy hens can live for years longer, up to a decade after they stop laying."
|Sebright bantams, which are only raised by rare breed stewards|
Rather than buying breeds that have been specifically bred to be good egg layers, most backyard chicken keepers have heritage breeds, many of which are on the verge of extinction and will only be here for future generations if backyard chicken keepers become stewards committed to keeping those breeds alive. Those breeds lay a good amount of eggs -- four to six a week -- but that's not profitable enough for factory farms. In eleven years we have never had a chicken have a problem with egg binding, the oviduct problem to which the animal activist refers, which is sadly common with the enhanced breeds developed for factory farms.
I don't know anyone who has bought chickens because of "misplaced rural nostalgia." Most people who want backyard chickens want them because they abhor the conditions in factory farms, so they are certainly not going to mimic those conditions. Yes, every now and then you might hear about someone keeping a couple of chickens in their basement, but you also hear about someone keeping 20+ cats in filthy conditions, and no one paints all cat owners as irresponsible and inhumane. Recently someone on a chicken forum asked if they could keep chickens in their basement, and community members responded negatively, some with simple facts and others with more emotional responses.
The reason that we have people giving away hens that are not laying much any longer is because of ignorance. We need to educate people about their food choices -- including animal rights activists who think that chickens only lay eggs for two years! Unfortunately few people in our society have the "common sense" that our ancestors possessed about food. Most modern Americans think everything comes from the grocery store and don't see a difference between a box of dehydrated mashed potatoes and a piece of chicken. A dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget doesn't look anything more like a chicken than a pile of dehydrated potato flakes looks like a potato.
But the plight of the potato and the chicken are very different because chickens are sentient beings. If you don't do your homework before deciding to plant a garden, and your garden fills with weeds and produces very little to eat, you are the only one who will lose. But if you get chickens without knowing what you are getting into, that creates an entirely different situation. Just as you should do your homework before bringing home a dog or cat, you should do your homework before bringing home chickens. If the people in that article really cared about chickens, they would work on educating people, not simply condemning every chicken keeper as a mini-factory farmer.
I am probably preaching to the choir here, but if you know anyone who is thinking about getting chickens, you might want to share this post and my next one with them. In my post on Thursday, I'll talk about the things you need to consider and the decisions you need to make before starting a backyard flock.