Everyone has a chicken coop in their backyard these days, and like I’ve said before, I think it’s a good thing.
Sure, it might be considered a “fad” by some, but hey- you can bet I’ll be the last one to complain about more people waking up to the issues with our current food system. And if that awakening means that folks are bringing home chickens in their mini-van, then good on them!
But, I recently came across an article that disheartened me, and it inspired this post today.
“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.”
Let me start off by saying that I have no idea what a “hipster” is, but I am fairly certain that I’m not one.
And I’m not quite ready to call this an epidemic, since “hundreds of chickens” stretched out across the entire United States really aren’t that many.
However, this article still bummed me out, and here’s why:
First off- this is poor animal husbandry. It’s not the chicken’s fault that the people who brought them home as fluffy baby chicks didn’t fully understand the commitment involved in keeping a flock.
Secondly, this reflects poorly on the modern-day homesteading movement as a whole, which is evidenced by the following quotes from Mary Britton Clouse, the owner of one of the chicken rescues mentioned in the article:
“People don’t know what they’re doing,” Britton Clouse said. “And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the h*** they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”
“It’s the stupid foodies, we’re just sick to death of it.”
I’ll be honest. When I first read those quotes, my hackles definitely stood up (and I wanted to send her the link to my open letter addressed to homesteading critics!). But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this particular person doesn’t get to see all the incredible, responsible people (like you, my dear readers!) that make up the thriving homesteading movement. She probably only comes in contact with the few that probably had no business owning chickens in the first place.
But I think this article brings an important issue to light– we need to make sure that we are being responsible in our homesteading endeavors.
How to Avoid Contributing to the Homeless Chicken Problem
Chickens don’t lay forever.
But the question remains– What DO you do with an unwanted chicken that is no longer providing eggs for your table? I see two main solutions to this issue:
1. Don’t buy them in the first place. Usually, I am the one encouraging folks to take steps towards homesteading. BUT, I ask that you think long and hard before adding any animals to your homestead. Whether it is a chicken, a goat, or a beehive, adding living creatures to your daily routine takes commitment- and it’s a commitment that still must be honored when it’s cold outside, or when the cute little baby is all grown up, or when you want to go on vacation. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, then steer clear of the chick aisle at the feed store.
2. Eat them. I know… Some of you are saying “Duh!” to this, while others are recoiling in horror.
To those who are horrified at such a thought, let’s think about this for a second: A huge part of the attraction to the modern-homesteading movement is the romance of the old-fashioned lifestyle. And if we want to be authentically old-fashioned, then we need to plan on sticking those older hens in the stew pot.
I guarantee that Great-Grandma wouldn’t have dreamed of keeping a non-productive hen around until she died a natural death at ten years of age. That would have been considered a serious waste of resources. Older hens who were past their prime of laying were used to nourish the family through chicken soup and stocks.
When my current flock stops laying, I will most definitely be processing them into nutritious chicken stock for my pantry, as well as meat for stews and soups.
There are lots of tutorials on line for butchering, processing, and stewing older hens. It’s a time-honored skill that is good to have in your repertoire anyway. I recently picked up a copy of this book (affiliate link), and it has a fantastic how-to chapter all about butchering chickens, including tons of color photographs.
(For those of you who are squeamish about butchering animals that you have raised, you will probably enjoy this post I wrote about my feelings about home butchering after we processed our steer.)
But Can’t I Just Keep Them?
Well sure, if you’ve developed an attachment to your hens and can’t bear to see them go, the Chicken Police won’t show up at your house if you decide to keep them.
Most hens peak in their egg production at around 2 years of age. That doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily stop laying after that, but it might not be quite as cost effective to feed them as it was when you were getting a steady egg-per-day. If you are a massive commercial egg-producer, this will definitely be a problem. But if you are a small flock owner, then only getting a couple eggs per week per hen might be ok. (Especially if you are free-ranging or feeding kitchen scraps to help supplement their diet and reduce feed-costs.)
If I came across harsh in this post, I didn’t mean to. But I think it’s important for folks to be aware off all the responsibilities that come with keeping yard birds–responsibilities extend beyond just the “fun stuff.”
I think we need to consider ourselves ambassadors for the homesteading-movement. It’s our job to show others all of the positive things about homesteading, or backyard farming, or urban chicken-keeping.
There is already enough adversity that comes with trying to homestead, (regulations, HOAs, covenants, laws, etc…), the last thing we want to do is cast our cause in a bad light.
So, let’s follow Grandma’s example by appreciating the hens for their egg-laying abilities, and then appreciating the nutritious, home-raised meat they can provide for our families later on.
This post was shared at Frugal Days Sustainable Ways