Backyard Chickens, a Sad Fad
“But what if you raise your own chickens for eggs?” well-intentioned people may ask, assuming that “backyard chickens” are a cruelty-free alternative to store-bought eggs. Unfortunately, raising backyard chickens is not all it’s cracked up to be, and this new fad, which is popping up in cities and towns across the country, is propagating major animal welfare problems.
Though most people who are drawn to raising backyard chickens are trying to secure their own uber-local source of fresh eggs, they rarely consider the accompanying cruelty. To start, in most places there are no laws regarding how breeding hens and roosters are housed, so they can be crammed into tiny cages with no outdoor access. Further, the vast majority of backyard chickens are purchased from hatcheries, which cruelly ship day-old birds through the postal system with minimal oversight.
In backyard egg-production, just as in conventional and organic egg-production, male chicks are not considered of any use. They are therefore killed, often at the hatcheries where they are born. However, due to sexing errors – and the industry practice of using male chicks as packing material – males also end up being shipped to customers. An estimated 20-50 percent of “hens” purchased are actually roosters! They are not only unwanted, but also illegal in most urban and suburban settings; they are therefore usually killed.
Hens don’t produce large quantities of eggs for very long, so the females can also become unwanted. Though they can live for 10 years (some even longer), their egg production tends to wane after about one year, and it often becomes sporadic within three years. (That’s pretty unreliable if it’s Sunday morning omelets you are after.)
What happens to the hens after their egg-production declines? Many people have no interest in keeping these girls as pets; these social creatures require a significant amount of care, time and money – and since there are few vets who specialize in avian medicine, veterinary care for chickens can be expensive and hard to find. Furthermore, animal sanctuaries such as Farm Sanctuary are currently reaching the limit of chickens we can shelter, especially roosters. As this fad grows, it will be more and more difficult to place these birds in permanent homes, meaning that the hens will likely be killed when their egg production begins to wane – while the roosters will be killed at the very start of their lives.
The country’s largest coalition of animal sanctuaries involved in the direct care of unwanted chickens has issued a position statement on backyard poultry, which lays out in detail the many unanticipated problems involved, and our recommendations henceforward.
To prevent the cruelties that come with backyard chicken-raising, we need your help! There are a number of actions you can take to educate your community and stop the expansion of this disturbing trend. Help prevent an outbreak of backyard chicken mania in your town or city.