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.
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.