Thursday, December 10, 2009

Animal Rights Groups Enter The Backyard Chicken-Keeping Fray

There is a new campaign by animal rights activists against backyard chicken-keeping.

These folks are well-intentioned, and their work is valuable. I was a vegetarian for twenty years primarily for ethical reasons and only went back to meat-eating when I discovered local, pasture-raised meat from animals that live as animals should. I have no ethical objection to the eating of meat, but I don’t want to eat an animal that has lived a life of misery ending only in a horrific death in a factory-farm slaughterhouse. But animal rights activists tend to believe meat-eating itself is unethical and therefore have an axe to grind when it comes to backyard chicken-keeping. They don't believe animals can ethically be used for food production, even when the animal isn't killed to produce the food. They advocate a vegan diet -- no eggs, no milk or cheese, no honey -- and their opinions and arguments are profoundly colored by this.  However, some of their concerns are valid, and those considering keeping chickens should be aware of these concerns.
  • There are no laws controlling methods by which breeding hens and roosters are kept, which means some hatcheries could be keeping them in small, crowded cages with no access to pasture.  Be sure to investigate where your chicks or fertile eggs for hatching come from; don't buy from any hatchery who mistreats breeding animals. Buy from a those who raise birds on pasture, just like you want to raise yours. Your best bet may be a small producer of heritage breeds, preferably someone local whom you can visit to see how the birds are treated.
  • Male chicks are not in demand for backyard flocks and may be mistreated because of their relative lack of value to a hatchery focussed on producing laying hens. Again, choose your hatchery carefully and don't buy from one that mistreats its male chicks.
  • Shipping day-old chicks is not ideal.  I don't know what kind of stress chicks experience in shipping, but while most chicks survive, it's probably a safe bet that no baby animal should ideally spend its first few days in a shipping box.  Again your best bet may be a small local producer of heritage breeds.
  • Roosters are often unwanted and sometimes illegal.  If you can't have or don't want roosters, have a plan for any bird that turns out to be male.  The producer who sold you your chicks may be willing to take the males to add to their flock of meat birds; ask ahead of time. Or you may be able to slaughter your unwanted males yourself or send them to be slaughtered.  It go should go without saying that dumping them on a shelter or otherwise abandoning them is not an ethical option.
  • Hens may be abandoned after they are no longer productive.  As an ethical backyard chicken-keeper, it's incumbent upon you to either treat your no-longer-productive hen as a valued pet, the same as you would an aging dog, or to either slaughter her yourself or send her to be slaughtered.  Have a plan in mind before you get your chickens.  
When push comes to shove, though, what's also true is that if you eat eggs, these problems are not ones that can be solved by not keeping your own chickens.  Producers of eggs, even those you buy at the farmers' markets, are probably getting their laying hens from the same hatchery as the chicks down at Tractor Supply.  So whether you get your eggs from Kroger, the farmers' market, or your own backyard, at some point some hatchery was likely involved.  Unless you are willing to give up eggs altogether -- which is what the animal rights groups want you to do -- keeping your own chickens is always going to be the best way to ensure you know how your eggs are produced.

These animal rights groups are asking supporters to actively oppose backyard chicken-keeping by attending meetings of their local city council, writing letters to the editor and to their government representatives, and talking to friends and neighbors. If you are waging a chicken-keeping fight in your town, be aware of this potential source of opposition.


MizGreenJeans said...

As a breeder of a rare and heritage breed of poultry, Buckeye chickens (the only breed of bird developed by a woman, and in Ohio no less!) I'd like to thank you for writing this blog.

I will say that I find the actions and philosophies of most animal rights groups to be unrealistic and extreme. It's a sad fact that the majority of Americans are very far removed from the production of their food. It can be very enlightening to raise one's one meat birds and egg layers, and provides a wonderful connection to the land for young people in particular.

I encourage all those who are interested in either purchasing their own poultry, or just eggs or meat, to check out where you can find small homesteaders near you who raise their birds to day range on pasture.

See our website for more info on Buckeyes:

valereee said...

Hi, MizGreenJeans! Love your handle! I remember Mr. Green Jeans.

It's unfortunate that animal rights activists have come out against backyard chicken-raising. We normally would be on the same side, as many backyard chicken-keepers are motivated by concerns about humane egg-production. But I think their philosophy is that there is no such thing as ethically-produced animal products.

Anonymous said...

Check out this informative and inspiring video on why people choose vegan:

Also see Gary Yourofsky:

Anonymous said...

A Holiday Thought...

Aren’t humans amazing Animals? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions of more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."

~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates~

valereee said...

Hi, Anonymous! Before I look at the video, can you tell me if I'll see any horrific scenes of CAFOs and factory-style slaughterhouses? Because I can't put those into my brain. I eat animals that -aren't- raised that way and don't need to be convinced of the evilness of factory-farming.

Please consider responding non-anonymously. I tend to not put much credence on comments from people who won't own up to their opinions.

BiscottiQueen said...

Hi Val,
I'm an organic gardening trying to create sustainable living on my little acre of Heaven. Part of that is raising my own Chickens and Ducks for eggs. We let everyone free range, especially the ducks who have a 2 acre pond that wonders onto our property (we partly own it).
I've been completely disgusted with what I've learned over the years and my family has gone as far as moving to where we can be part of the process of creating our own food. From raising chickens to planting a small orchard of 7 trees, to growing our own organic berries and veggies.
I'm sorry that Animal Rights Groups go this far... but I'd like to say animals have no right to anything but our respect. I believe in the food chain, and I'm afraid I will eat and ALWAYS eat meats one way or another. I do not eat pork or beef any longer because I can not raise those, and before now, I did not trust how they were raised. However, I raise my own chickens and I will eat those.
I do believe the most important thing is to treat these animals with the respect they deserve while they are alive. Its our way of thanking them. For they truly add to our quality of life, so we should give them the quality of life we would expect. Small cages are unacceptable... that's why Backyard chickens have the best life possible when it comes to a choice. If people are going to eat meat, sorry vegans it will never change, it is a fact of life for the greatest percentage out there... then one should chose the healthiest route for the animal. It will affect us all!

Good point MizGreenJeans! is an AMAZING site! Hopefully in another year I'll have a listing there for my apples! :)

~Shannon~ From:

Also, columnist for 's daily newsletter... on Heirloom and organic gardening!

valereee said...

Hi, Shannon! That's basically my feeling, too. If I'm going to eat eggs, it's incumbent upon me to make sure those eggs were humanely raised. It's harder to make sure the eggs that produced my hens were also humanely produced, but being aware of the problem is a good thing and I'll try to do that, too.

CincyCapell said...

If God did not want humans to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them so damn tasty! The veal chops we cooked tonight were great!!

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Anonymous said...

To Whom it May Concern:
My name is Sara and I am an intern at Mercy For Animals. MFA’s National Campaign Coordinator, Phil Letten, is currently on a nationwide tour campaigning for Walmart to phase out cruel gestation crates for mother pigs. He will be making a stop in Cincinnati, OH on October 9, 2012.
He will need help from local activists to hold signs and hand out leaflets. We are asking everyone to dress professional as media is expected. Do you think you could alert your members about the protest?
Where: Outside Walmart at 2322 Ferguson Rd. (near the Walmart sign on Ferguson Rd.), Cincinnati, OH
When: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
To learn more about the campaign please visit
To contact Phil directly please email or call him at 810-599-1278.
Thank you,
Sara Sawochka