Urban chicken farming is old news at this point, but the mainstream media has been erupting with reports of the number of chickens recently flooding into animal shelters.
From rooftops in Brooklyn to backyards here in Portland, flocks of chickens are occupying a unique cultural space, existing somewhere in between pets and sustenance-providers for city-dwelling humans. Neiman Marcus even offered a $100,000 mini-Versailles coop for the most discerning chicken wranglers last December, suggesting the trend has moved beyond urban homesteaders into the 1%. But regardless of income level, what’s a new chicken owner to do when the adorable, chirping balls of fluff grow beyond their egg-laying years or even—surprise!—into a rooster? The rise in shelter chickens can be attributed to the higher level of care and long-term commitment many first-time owners aren’t prepared for.
The biggest misconception is that raising the chickens yourself is a positive alternative to factory farming, but that isn’t the whole story. Baby chicks are shipped from their origin hatcheries by mail, be it directly to their new owner or a local farming supply store. Sadly, the shipping process can limit their ability to breathe and expose them to extreme temperatures. It is common to expect one or two chicks to be DOA after their journey through the postal service, and not uncommon to destroy entire orders—not exactly humane. Additionally, it is virtually impossible to distinguish between male and female chicks, meaning new owners often unwittingly raise a rooster. Most municipalities have ordinances that disallow roosters entirely, meaning these boys must be given up or destroyed. The same goes for city-permitted hens that have moved past their egg-laying years. Considering that a healthy and happy hen can live at least a decade, the commitment to caring for them doesn’t end when their egg production does.
Raising a flock of chickens isn’t as bucolic as the trend suggests, and isn’t a hobby to be entered into casually. It’s important to remember that chickens are sensitive, high-maintenance animals, not merely quirky egg-laying machines, and their adoption should be entered into thoughtfully.
By Leigh Lowry, ALDF Litigation Program Volunteer on July 25, 2013