Chickens get chucked when they can’t lay any more eggs. That is, if they are raised in backyards for the purposes of egg production but some owners will kill their chickens for food. Although chickens can live for decades, poultry owners still do not want to keep these animals when they outgrow their usefulness so the chickens are released to the great outdoors or taken to shelters.
Animal shelters already are overburdened with dogs and cats, so receiving old hens into the shelters only worsens the animal control problem.
According to Mary Britton Clouse, operator of Chicken Run in Minneapolis, “The numbers are exploding. We had hoped that the fad had peaked and maybe we were going to get a little bit of a break here, but we haven’t.” Chicken Run received nearly 500 calls last year for help with chickens.
A chicken no longer laying eggs is not the only problem, however. Owners still need to consider the cost of feed, shelter and vet bills. Shelter is especially a concern because chickens are easy prey for predators so chicken coops need to be secure with sturdy fencing and solid covered roofs. Chicken feed does attract vermin and other wildlife, and chickens can develop avian influenza, which could evolve to infect humans. Free-range chickens in Asia have caused bird flu so the government there is planning to ban chicken farming.
Raising backyard chickens is an extension of the U.S. public’s increased consumption of organic fruits, vegetables and meats. Commercially raised chickens contain gross amounts of antibiotics and use 500 million tons of manure each year, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The heavy greenhouse gases that emit as a result can increase the potential for global warming.
Raising chickens at home is legal in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, so if you live in one of these big cities, you are in luck. The cities of Anne Arbor, Michigan; Ft. Collins, Colorado; and South Portland, Maine are working on legalizing backyard chicken raising.
The positives of raising chickens in your backyard far outweigh the negative (possible avian influenza spreading to humans). Chicken raising contributes to a sense of community among other local chicken farmers, the sense of accomplishment from raising food on your own, the feeling of closeness to nature, and eating local food–right from your backyard!–and knowing you are consuming poultry that is free range and organic. You can also breathe better knowing you are reducing energy costs and carbon emissions from food transportation.
A website called BackYard Chickens provides a forum for backyard chicken farmers. The site offers plenty of information on chicken farming, ranging from basic information on how to begin chicken raising to keeping your chickens healthy. BackYard Chickens boasts 200,000 members, with many more joining every week.
The urban chicken movement is clearly on the move. Perhaps it is an option for you if you have the yard space and the resources, and especially if you have small children. What kid wouldn’t want a pet chicken?
By Juana Poareo
The Wall Street Journal