Backyard chickens — pets or livestock?

This is an excerpt from a recent post by Charlotte on The Ethicurean blog:

Backyard chickens don't have to be treated as pets.

“….I must admit, there’s a part of me that feels a little queasy about having become part of a trend. I’m not really a trend person. I’d always wanted chickens, but mostly for the same economic-anxiety issues like the ones described in this article. I had a pretty strong hunch that my corporate job was coming to an end, and I figured with a big veggie garden and a bunch of hens, at least I wouldn’t starve to death. But I have to say, I was sort of wigged out by trend articles like this one about artist Hope Sandrow and this other one about the children’s book author, Jann Brett, in which the chickens are described as something between pets and circus freaks.

People! These are chickens! Don’t you know they will shit on everything? And you let them in your house? On your shoulder? In your car? Yuck.

So, my dirty little secret is out. I don’t love my chickens. I haven’t named them, not even the little brown one who is the only survivor from that group of six I brought home in the spring. I wasn’t particularly sentimental about the two the dog killed, although I was quite annoyed with the dog: he’d offed them just as they’d started producing eggs. To me, they all seem pretty interchangeable. They lay enormous brown eggs, with yolks that stand up and are a bright bright marigold color. They are making me very fine compost.

But they are not pets. They’re livestock. Yes, I distinguish between the two. Perhaps it’s growing up on farms, and around people who breed animals for a living, but I do think there are degrees of separation. Call me a species-ist if you want, but I don’t love them, I haven’t named them, and I do not want them in my house.

I have pets. Two spoiled bird dogs who are allowed on all the furniture and upon whom I have lavished much affection and thousands of dollars of veterinary care. The chickens are not pets. They live in a coop out back, and granted, they’re sort of adorable sometimes when they all chase me across the yard in the morning — I’m not taking it as a sign of affection, they know they’ll get kitchen scraps and scratch grains if they return to the coop when their free-range recess is over. But I just don’t get the sentimental attachment that so many people seem to feel for their chickens. What, praytell, are all these people who have chickens running around in their house doing about the shit? Do they have servants to follow the chickens around? Please tell me they’re not outfitting them with chicken diapers?

To each his own, I suppose. If you want your chickens to be pets, then who am I to judge? You want to diaper your chickens… well, people do all sorts of odd things. But don’t go all cranky with me because I think there are livestock animals, which live outside, in barns or coops or sties or whatever, and won’t be bringing mine inside.

I do like my chickens. But mostly I do my duty by them. They have a nice life — a cozy coop, a big run, an hour or so free range in the garden every morning, food, a heated water thingy for winter. They now have sturdy fencing to keep my dogs, the neighborhood cats, and that skunk I’ve smelled in the alley out of their enclosure. I clean the shit out of their food and their water. I keep their run and the coop mucked out and make sure they have clean straw in their area and shavings in their coop. Despite all that, despite the nice rhythm they give to my day, and the astonishingly good eggs that I’m using for barter all over town…they’re just chickens. Nice chickens, but still, just chickens.

I worry about all those people who are jumping on the backyard chicken trend, expecting them to be cute and affectionate — to be pets, in essence. What’s going to happen when they’re confronted by the considerable amount of waste those chickens produce? What’s going to happen the first time one of their kids gets fwapped in the face by a panicky chicken? Or steps barefoot in a big squishy free-range pile of chicken shit? What’s going to happen when they decide they’re bored with chickens, that their daily care is too demanding and they aren’t really that cute after all?…”

Read thee rest of the story on The Ethicurean blog

Featured comment (by Bruce King):

“The folks at most animal shelters seem to think that an “adoption fee” of $40 is appropriate for chickens, which is why chickens languish at shelters all over the country.

A chick is $2, a chicken of indeterminate age is probably worth around $6 – bagged and oven-ready.

Try mentioning to the shelter that you’re interested in adopting dinner and they’ll show you to the door.

Weird.  Supermarkets are fine, but eating livestock?  Nope.  Not in our enlightened society. “

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