Dear Vancouver, backyard chickens are a bad idea

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Dear Vancouver, backyard chickens are a bad idea

We already have issues with unwanted dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles, llamas, chinchillas, tropical birds, and the list just goes on and on. Introducing another kind of animal that will be part pet, part food source will likely mean bad things for the chickens themselves. Why, in this whole question of whether we should be allowed to keep backyard chickens, does no one consider the implications for the chickens?

Marji at Animal Place posted a blog today about this very issue. She writes:

Chickens are wonderful animals. They’re fascinating and engaging. They form bonds and friendships, have preferences and desires of their own. We believe they can become wonderful companions. We do not believe the backyard chicken phenomenon is turning out to be in the best interest of the birds or people. That is not to say we oppose the adoption of chickens, we whole-heartedly support anyone’s efforts at providing an appropriate and permanent home to abandoned birds.

In her post she quotes from an article by Kim Severson which appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, which looks at the problems with urban chickens in the Bay Area. Severson writes: “Unwanted urban chickens are showing up at local animal shelters. Even in the best of circumstances, chickens die at alarming rates.”

But with increased chicken popularity comes a downside: abandonment. In one week earlier this month, eight were available for adoption at the Oakland shelter and five were awaiting homes at the San Francisco shelter. In Berkeley, someone dropped four chickens in the animal control night box with a note from their apologetic owner, said Kate O’Connor, the manager.

I wonder if the Vancouver supporters have considered the negatives of backyard chickens. Is there any way to guarantee that chickens will be well-cared for and won’t be abandoned or simply slaughtered when they stop producing eggs? Will people understand that buying chickens from a breeder simply perpetuates a system that kills unwanted birds (especially roosters) and that is as cruel, if not worse, than the worst puppy mills?

When the city council voted to allow backyard hens in Vancouver many animal protection groups in Vancouver opposed the motion. Not a single animal protection group supported it. There may be a few people who do a wonderful job caring for their pet chickens, but many more chickens will suffer as a result, and a new cottage industry of breeding chickens for sale to urbanites will have been created.

It’s about time we started thinking past the latest fads of local food or sketchy ideas of “food security” and really begin to care for our fellow residents of this planet. It’s the only decent thing to do.



ps. I was looking at the nutritional content of an egg, and 1 cup of peas has more protein and more iron than 1 egg. Plus more other vitamins and a whole lot less cholesterol. It’s healthier for us and for the chickens to eat a plant-based diet.



February 23, 2011 at 2:52 am

I actually have to disagree with the majority of your article. The chicken has been in a symbiotic relationship with man for tens of thousands of years, much like cats, dogs, mice and rats. It is government and industry who has exploited this animal, and using ‘public health’ as a method to prohibit ownership in urban settings. One need only explore the factory settings of meat and eggs laying flocks, where populations number in the tens of thousands, with a floor space deemed acceptable by the SPCA, which is under .8 sqft per bird.

Givin these fact of industry, it is clear that these home kept birds will experience a freedom and quality of life beyond compare to their exploited counterparts.


February 23, 2011 at 9:04 am

You make some interesting points, although “symbiotic” is not exactly the word I would use. We get a lot from a chicken, but they don’t get much from us, except being killed and eaten. I do agree that home-raised chickens can be better treated than chickens on a factory farm, but this would only be a positive point if people were rescuing chickens from factory farms and letting them live out the rest of their days in their backyard. No, instead more chickens are being bred in hatcheries (which are basically factories in and of themselves) to be sold. What the city has done is essentially endorse a system of commodification of these animals that can lead to many, if not more, abuses than we see with other pets.

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