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Chickens as Pets

No Chickens have been harmed in the making of this Urban Homestead. Much to Rocco’s chagrin, as I’ve mentioned. We’ve had many long talks on the topic. I’m guessing such conversations will continue for some time.

The Ladies are oblivious to the shadow of the clear and present danger they reside beneath. Danger not limited to the canine variety. Unfortunately, although I’ve named my girls and raised them from wee chickety-chicks, I don’t believe they are pets.

Go ahead. Call me a hard-hearted-harbinger. I’ll deal. I’ve given this a lot of thought over the past few months. I did not expect to feel this way. I did not intend to feel this way. I wanted to love my Chicken Girls like I love The Pack. Only, they would be The Flock. Equally dear, if not snuggling with us on the couch.

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Then Suzie happened. Suzie who is not a Chicken Girl at all. I’m coming to terms with my boy named Sue. In doing so, I’ve had to face some realities. Namely that, Chickens are not meant to die from natural causes. I’d like to say we can keep Suzie, but that’s not really an option. Yes, I can legally have a Rooster. No, my neighbors will not appreciate crowing. More than that, my flock is too small to necessitate a Roo, I don’t want to deal with fertilized eggs, interrupted laying, and (potentially) a territorial male bird. The logistics don’t work.

To paraphrase The Man in Black, ‘His name is Sue. What do you do?’
The options, they are limited.

Much like with unruly dogs, there are not an infinite number of farms in the country willing to take your surprise Rooster. Nor do I necessarily think that is the best option. Have you read the NY Times article on Chicken Retirement Homes? Some people find it comforting to know there is place to send their chickens. Me? I find it disturbing. Just another instance of passing the buck when it comes to dealing with our ‘pets’. Sending animals, used to a small flock and a comfortably-limited world, to what essentially amounts to a large scale poultry operation, minus the killing. Why? Not because we are morally opposed to the slaughtering of chickens. Because butchering them would be too hard. On Us. Nevermind the Chicken living out the next five to seven years. The emotional turmoil of seeing our decisions through is too much to bear.

Evolutionarily speaking, Chickens are derived from jungle birds. They have few natural defenses. Roosting and Roosters pretty much sums it up. They reproduce quickly and prolifically to ensure the survival of the species. These are creatures that do not die of old age. They are eaten, by predators or by us. It’s part of their charm. It’s the primary reason for their domestication. I’m not going to give up eating meat. If I want to sing the gospel of Local Chicken, I should be ok with harvesting it. I’m not going to say killing Suzie would be fun. It most certainly would not. It would be taking responsibility for her his life.

The more I learn about Chicken Raising, the more I think ‘culling’ is a must-have skill. Taking Chickens to the vet is spendy. Like $80 to walk in the door spendy. Yet Chickens get sick, with mystery illnesses. They get injured, and there’s only so much you can do at home. Spendy avian vet aside, transporting a sick or wounded Chicken is stressful. There is a very real possibility I could have to dispatch a Lady to end her pain and discomfort. I don’t want to be scrambling and clueless if that day comes. This doesn’t mean I don’t like my Chickens. In my opinion, it means I want to control their quality of death, as I do their quality of life.

The Suzie Strategy. Suzie (and Not-Madge) are fine for the moment. The clock, she ticks though. There are too many Roosters in the world. The chances of finding Suzie a home and a flock of his own are slim. I’m not sure I’ll even try. It all depends on when things become unmanageable. If Suzie is big enough to eat before (s)he becomes a nuisance, then we will do the deed. I’m planning to take a class, and I think I’ve got an adequate support structure in place if the timing doesn’t work out. If he’s still pretty scrawny when the time comes, then I may ask around for a placement. Only if it buys her a significant amount of time and maintains her quality of life. I’m mixing my pronouns, I know.

Either way, Suzie will end up in a pot. It’s just a question of when and who’s.

In my mind, this categorizes Chickens as not-pets. I wouldn’t eat my dogs, or their relatives. I wouldn’t hesitate to take them to the vet. I definitely wouldn’t euthanize them myself. Separate set of concerns. Separate classification. Still mine to care for and respect, even if that means I have to make uncomfortable decisions.

Any Chicken owners out there? What do you do with your flock? Would be Backyard Poultry-ists? Do you have a plan in place?

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Comments

Erica / Northwest Edible Life
Reply

Im with you on the chickens as (not) pets thing. Though I did take a hen to the vet, something I doubt I’d do it again. If you want moral support (or help) converting your rooster to coq au vin let me know.

dogsordollars
Reply

Thanks Erica! I may have to take you up on that.

Luke
Reply

Having grown up on a small farm with 15-30 chickens (depending on the year, season, etc), I totally agree. Chickens can been sweet and endearing at times, but they are most certainly not pets. As you said, they do not age well. After a few good years of good natured pecking, scratching, and laying, they often grow sick and/or bring harm to younger members of the flock.

Old hens and (extra) young roosters are destined to end up on the dinner table. It may sound heartless to those without experience with chickens, but it’s the truth. The alternative is almost always worse for the birds well being.

dogsordollars
Reply

Yep. I’ve read (although I didn’t cite) that as with many farmed animals, as they age they experience a high incidence of debilitating tumors. There goes quality of life, and you can’t even eat them!

Miser Mom
Reply

Completely geeky math facts:

If it’s true that chicken sexers are right 10% of the time, and you order 10 chickens (no roosters, please), the most likely outcome is you’ll have exactly one rooster. That’ll happen to 38% of the people who order 10 chickens.

The second most likely outcome is no roosters at all (happens to almost 35% of those people who purchase 10-packs of chicks). There’s a 20% chance, though, you’d get 2 roosters, and a 6% chance you’ll get three. A full 1% of the population will be unlucky enough to get 4 roosters. Beyond that, the chances are remote (but not non-existent) that you could get 5 or more. Yoicks!

dogsordollars
Reply

I knew I’d get some math-y goodness outta you! Call me the lucky 20% that gets to learned up on the Chicken Facts of life right quick.

Trish
Reply

Did you see the movie Cold Mountain, where a rooster was terrorizing Nichole Kidman (not the main plot line). and Rene Zelweger shows up, dispatches him and says ‘let’s put him in a pot’. we had chickens growing up and there was a terrifying rooster who used to spur me. no fun at all!

dogsordollars
Reply

We also had a terrifying Rooster when I was a kid. I’ve never forgotten him. Although, he was a very convenient excuse for getting out of chicken chores as a small child. I’m pretty sure this is why I didnt learn a ton of things that would come in handy now.

And yes, I actually love the Rene Zelweger character from Cold Mountain. :D

dogsordollars
Reply

Awww schucks! Thanks so much Crystal.

Saskia/Banyans End
Reply

Ugh, we’ve had chickens for a year and are not prepared for one of them to get sick. Our kids definitely see them as pets and are horrified at the thought of eating them. We have friends who’ve spent hundreds of dollars at the UCD Vet Hospital tending to just one chicken, which is not an option for us. I have to figure this out soon!

dogsordollars
Reply

Yeah, as I understand it as soon as you walk in the vet’s door with a chicken (assuming you can find some place to take them) $80. Yikes. Good luck with the kids angle. That’d be extra tough.

Ann-Krestene
Reply

We’ve kept chickens for the last 3 years now. We started with 3, added 3 new chicks the following year and then another 3 the next. I just culled one of our older ones a few weeks ago with the help of a friend (she hadn’t layed an egg in months, was at the top of the pecking order eating the bulk of the chicken feed and so territorial; she was operating in the red.) I will not lie, it was a very intense process, but not overwhelming. I will be able to do it again. Our family has become less and less attached to each batch of birds as we get them. This last batch we neglected to name all together “cause we’re just gonna eat ‘em right?”

dogsordollars
Reply

I wonder if we will get to this point. The not naming. It seems most people do, and I can see the freedom in it.

Unfortunately (or not) it is about operational costs. I’ve got plenty of non-human mouths to feed as it is. And they only pull their own weight by way of companionship. ;) We are operating under a no (more) free loaders policy.

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