Monday, 30 September 2013

The Dark Side of Urban Chickens: Surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes!

Over the past year, I have blogged about the continued debate over keeping chickens in an urban settings (see CRACK CRACK CRACKDOWN and Other Tales of Feathered Friends, Food Trends and what Influences Them  and Red Deer Advocate - Council looks at permanent options for chickens).  To me, the benefits are obvious:  chickens are small and require little room; they provide food for the table, in terms of eggs and meat; back yard chickens help children and adults alike, learn where food comes from; waste, when properly cured, is an excellent form of natural fertilizer; and it's really quite amazing how many scraps three or four chickens can eat through, keeping it out of landfills; not to mention, a chemical free form of pest control.  Having had the benefit of growing up on a small mixed farm, I can also confirm that kids can make pets out of almost anything and, while I admit, a chicken is not the smartest pick, they are a lot nicer to snuggle with than a fish -- or a dead gopher, in my case. . . but that's an entirely different story.   In fact, various chapters of Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub  (aka CLUCK -- check it out of Facebook) have been successfully lobbying municipal governments to amend bylaws to accommodate urban chickens for some years.

Alas, as with everything, there is a dark side to the urban chicken debate. Many people are inspired by the idea of living life as a locavore and trying to limit what they eat to the local market.  Raising chickens in the background sounds like fun, however, municipalities are now finding themselves having to deal with those few irresponsible individuals who abandon their fowl, perhaps because they unexpectedly discovered that it's not only work to keep chickens but a whole lot messier than their rose colored glasses may have, at first blush, permitted them to see.
More often than not, the victims are poor unsuspecting roosters who find themselves suddenly abandoned, when it was discovered that they do not lay eggs.  Really people?  How many males do you know that produce eggs?  Isn't that just biology one?  And while everyone might not be able to sex a baby chick, people who raise and sell chicks can!  The lucky abandoned chickens find themselves surrendered to a local humane society that often does not have the expertise or proper facilities to house them.  As with other pets, some just find themselves literally tossed out on the street. 

This is not new:  across the US, hundreds of chickens are abandoned on a weekly basis, spanning over a decade.  The Humane Society International Canada,  based in Montreal, said chickens are being dropped off at the SPCA in Montreal every week.   There is now an organization, Chicken Run Rescue, who blames the problem on “hipster farmers” who don’t understand what they’re getting into when they decide to purchase chickens for their backyard. 

We have all seen the cute fluffy, dyed chicks at Easter; just like any other kid, I wanted one too. Fortunately, I had parents who understood what it meant to care for pets and livestock and, while we got chicks every spring, unfortunately, our chicken coop wasn't sufficiently insulated to protect a chick that early in the season and there was never a doubt that a chicken--baby or not--was ever (and I mean EVER!) coming into the house, unless it was in a roaster pan.

It is unfortunate, the number of people in our society that do not educate themselves before they jump in with both feet, to find out that caring for animals and having a safe place for them to live, is actually a lot of work.  That smile on your child's face may be short-lived when they discover their new 'toy' comes with responsibilities that the family is not willing to absorb.  We are already a society with abandonment issues; just look at the number of dogs and cats left homeless, sometimes for good reason, usually not.

Here's the bottom line, people.  Chickens are pretty cute, and they do have a lot of benefits, but if you’re going to raise them, do it the right way – know what you’re getting yourself into and be prepared for a lot of work.  Perhaps you might want to contact a chicken rescue agency in your community and adopt, just like you might with a dog or cat.

If you’re not ready for that, maybe stick to watching Chicken Run at home for now, or going to visit the chickens abandoned at animal shelters, quite possibly by your neighbours.