Friday, December 11, 2009

Backyard Eggs Not All They're Cracked Up to Be?

If you walk around your neighborhood like I do, you my have noticed an odd noise coming from your neighbor's back yard. You stop and cock your head. Is that what you think it is?

In Portland, the answer is yes. That sound is indeed the clucking of chickens, and it's the city's latest obsession. Nearly everyone I know has or is considering having a flock of their own (including me) and design plans for coops are being traded (and debated) at dinner parties all over town.

But now a coalition of farm animal sanctuaries and avian experts are starting to raise red flags about keeping chickens in urban settings, warning would-be backyard poultry farmers that the fantasy of having that home-grown egg for breakfast may not be all it's cracked up to be. A recent press release from Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue, education and advocacy group, states:

"Unbeknownst to many well-meaning hobbyists, the massive hatcheries from which most chicks are purchased by individuals or feed stores are notorious for animal mistreatment. No laws regulate the housing of chickens at these facilities and minimal laws that go unenforced cover transportation of their offspring. Breeding hens and roosters may be confined in cramped cages or sheds with no access to the outdoors, and day-old chicks are shipped to buyers through the mail, deprived of food and water and exposed to extremes in temperature for up to 72 hours. Hens are in much higher demand than roosters; therefore, most males chicks are killed onsite at these hatcheries as soon as they are sexed, adding up to millions of birds every year that are killed shortly after they hatch.

"The coalition is encouraging those considering backyard flocks to do their research on the legality of chicken flocks in their area and the housing, predator proofing, diet, and medical care necessary for the health and safety of their birds. Those acquiring chickens are asked to avoid supporting the cruel practices of hatcheries by adopting chickens from sanctuaries and shelters."

Plus the fact that their egg production decreases steadily after the first year of laying and, considering chickens can live for more than a dozen years, then what do you do with them?

So stop and think before you invest hundreds of dollars in coops and chickens and feed. After all, farmers' markets have eggs available year round. And how many dozens of eggs for $5 or $6 could you buy for that investment?

Another excellent reference is "Factors Affecting Egg Production in Backyard Chicken Flocks" from the University of Florida.


bb said...

Not to be all hard hearted, but when my soon-to-be chickens stop producing, then they will become dinner.
I plan on checking with Urbanfarm ( here in PDX for chickens. They have already told me about a source in Sandy who raises chickens humanely for sale.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Good for you for making that decision ahead of time! As with those cute puppies and kittens, many folks don't realize they're taking on a commitment of (at minimum) twice a day for at least a decade.

And if you don't want to cut and paste, here's the link for UrbanFarm.

EcoGrrl said...

seems like a pretty one sided article... how about recommendations on where to obtain chicks and things we can all do to ensure we are going about chicken-keeping the right way? not all of us want to pay $6 a dozen at the farmers market. let's find ways to encourage rather than discourage urban homesteaders :)

Kathleen Bauer said...

As with any relationship, I think it's valuable to ask questions and think before diving into a long-term commitment. Aside from Urban Farm (link above), does anyone have any other resources to recommend?

Kathleen Bauer said...

Looks like a great list of resources at Growing Gardens.

PAR said...

Thank you for raising awareness in this area. I advocate that prospective chicken owners need to resolve these questions before they buy. However they reconcile their ethics is their own matter, as long as they do.
Acknowledge that SOMEthing has to happen to all the male chicks out there. Though they are out of sight, don't let them be entirely out of mind.
Acknowledge that at some point a laying hens will slow down their egg production, at which point there a few choices: 1) keep the ol' girl around as compensation for what she has provided you. 2) Consider her value as a food source, but keep in mind that mature hens are tougher and stringier than the young hens we have become accustomed to in the stores 3) Post yur hen on a site such as Craigslist, keeping in mind that many low income people will take former laying hens as a means of putting dinner on the table.
Having resolved these points ahead of time is a responsible choice.

Farmer Chrissie said...

Sand Hill Preservation Center in the midwest is a great resource for chicks from humanely raised breeding stock. This outfit does really important work of seed saving heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables, and breeding heirlooms varieties of poultry. Be aware however that rare heirloom breeds such as green-egg-laying auracaunas are sold out months in advance. However great bargains can be had by choosing to take whatever breed is available. Also they will only send you straight-run chicks (i.e., both genders): if you value the humanity of not gassing the boys, you should expect to take them. May I point out that the next urban fad in keeping chickens is becoming keeping a few -- and then self-butchering a few -- of your own roosters every year. If this is too daunting to contemplate, know that Kookoolan Farms, and Urban Farmstore, sometimes offer classes on butchering your own poultry.
-- Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor, Kookoolan Farms

Kathleen Bauer said...

As always, thanks for sharing your knowledge. It's important for people to know what they're getting into!