Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A House of Cards --- Made of Chickens!

Uh, oh, the entire backyard chicken movement is falling apart before our very beaks:

Despite visions of quaint coops, happy birds and cheap eggs, the growing trend of raising backyard chickens in urban settings is backfiring, critics say, as disillusioned city dwellers dump unwanted fowl on animal shelters and sanctuaries.

Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.

“Many areas with legalized hen-keeping are experiencing more and more of these birds coming in when they’re no longer wanted,” said Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. “You get some chicks and they’re very cute, but it’s not as though you can throw them out in the yard and not care for them...”

“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.”

I resent that. The proper term is "stupid urban farmers." Get it right. 

In reality, grumpy old Clouse isn't far off the mark. It's no surprise that there are a lot of "stupid" urban chicken farmers out there who didn't realize what they were getting into. Not that it's particularly difficult to raise chickens; I don't know where the reporter got the idea that it's "noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive" to do so. It is not. But chickens do stop laying after a few years, at which point it becomes necessary to cull them (or, to abandon euphemism, kill them). Unless you want a bunch of designer pets running around your backyard, there's really no point in keeping egg-less chickens around; best to slaughter them for soup birds, or else give them to a local farmer who will make the difficult choice for you. 

In effect, dropping them off at the nearby animal shelter is an essay in cowardice and inept farming, because the hard reality of animal husbandry is that it is made of hard realities. Death is inevitably a part of a farm animal's life, and a farm animal that does not produce does not really fit into the grand scheme of things. It's sort of brutal, but it need not be made of brutality: a spent chicken can be easily and almost-painlessly killed and put to better use, making way for the next chicken who will lay more eggs. It is, as Elton John once said, the circle of life. Trendy, squeamish urban farmers who can't be bothered to kill their own birds are not practicing the correct form of urban animal husbandry; they are doing it wrong, meaning there is an indisputable right way to do it . Why would people pretend otherwise?

Elsewhere, further mistakes are made:

When [chickens] get sick or hurt, they need care that can run into the hundreds of dollars, boosting the price of that home-grown egg far beyond even the most expensive grocery store brand. 

Well, I've got a solution for such egg-price-boosting fiascoes, and it's spelled "chopping block." Now, don't get me wrong: it wouldn't be a joyous decision. Chickens can be weirdly endearing, and sort of sweet, if you've got a good imagination. But they're not "normal" pets; they are genuine working parts of any responsible household economy, and the niche they occupy demands a firm resolve when they stop occupying that niche.

Here's the most hilarious part of the article: 

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, [Clouse] said.

 "Rearing them without proper space, food or veterinary care?" Uh, what does Clouse think the nation's largest poultry producers do? 

1 comment:

  1. Got a total kick out of this one. I hold great disdain for those that would endeavor to start up with chicken cultivation, and not see the broader arc.

    The idea that heaps of middle aged, has been, no egg dropping chickens are being delivered to animal shelters is fascinating. All the self absorbed self satisfaction of beginning with, what is, at such a point, nose diving into the ground, creates such an intense sensation of feeble regret.

    can just imagine the final decision to dump the coop occupants. "Mary, it's for the best. After all, we did all we could."

    No you didn't.