Thursday, July 17, 2008

The urban chicken. Yo.

With all this talk about creating a backyard garden and relying less on the grocery store, I got to thinking about the new hip thing for home- owners this year - urban chickens. I am fascinated with the idea of the urban chicken and have done entirely too much reading up on the topic. First of all you should know that urban chickens are not chickens with a penchant for rap music and hip sense of street fashion. They're chickens that live in the backyards of suburban homes, in the community garden plots of city-dwellers, and anywhere else that is considered atypical.

The move toward sustainability and creating less of a footprint on the planet has people planting gardens and now raising backyard chickens. I like the idea of fresh eggs and I respect the idea of fresh chicken meat and knowing where your food comes from. We raised fancy ducks and ate a few duck eggs in our time, so I have a bit of experience with yard fowl. But there are three issues with urban chickens that I can't get past.

1) Pet hens can live to about age 8 or 10. Some breeds of hens lay for about 2 to 3 years. There's a lot of years between age 3 and age 10 where you have a chicken without a purpose. I know you can still use this chicken's poo as a great composty fertlizer for your garden, but when it comes down to it, you have an eggless poo machine for about 7 years. And since chickens shouldn't live alone, you'll have about 3 eggless poo machines for about 7 years.

2) Once they stop laying a "real" farmer will turn that cute little pet hen into General Tso's chicken. I understand that chickens are what we eat, but from past experience I can tell you that once an animal lives in our house it gets named, and we can't eat named creatures. Our dogs and cats base their lives wiith us on that fact. So although you *should* slaughter the chickens and eat them to show a truly sustainable lifestyle, I'm not sure we could do it. If urban chickens are the new in-thing for sustainable living, what will happen to all these chickens in about 2 to 3 years if other families can't play assassin either? Will the day come when mom goes out back and sees sweet little Petunia the hen come running up for a cuddle...and instead of picking her up and scruffing her cute little hen head, mom re-enacts the whole "here comes the chopper to chop off your head" line from the "Oranges and Lemons" nursery rhyme?? I don't think so. I fear an influx of chickens to humane societies down the road... maybe causing urban chicken rescue centers to be built. Possibly humane societies will turn away the chickens and desperate people will drop off their chickens in the middle of the woods causing an overpopulation of wild ex-urban chickens creating chicken gangs and stalking people in the woods? Think about it.

3) Chickens have got to take some looking after. We had ducks and they took a LOT of time and energy. We loved having them and they made great pets (see Artie relaxing like a baby with Farmer B in the pic), but just making sure they all got put away in their coop at night was a pain. It would get dark, we'd realize we forgot about them, they'd make us chase them all over the yard in the dark herding them like we were deranged sheep dogs. The cleaning out of their duckhouse, the feeding - the watering... it's not a quick process. And try finding a duck (or urban chicken) sitter to look after them while you go on vacation. One time a bobcat killed and ate one of my favorite ducks too...our big male called Jack. It was a very sad day.

So although I'm all about sustainability and we're doing our best starting this garden, I'm not sure the urban chicken is the way to go...although I must admit, I am tempted. Secretly, I'd love to get an eglu and give this chicken thing a shot, but I don't think it's right for us. If you want to learn more about the urban chicken phenomenon, click on the Backyard Farming blog in my blog list off to the right or on any of these links. Yo.

"My Pet Chicken"
"Just Food - City Chickens"
"Bucky Backaw's Backyard Chicken Broadcast"
"Chicken Breeds"
"Chicken Laws - by city"

3 comments:

Carole said...

I think you should go for the chickies. You know you want to !

Tricia said...

oh my gawd. I thought chickens kept laying eggs until they died of old age.

Maybe you could just leave them out at night when they stop laying, something will carry they off and sooooo the cycle begins.

Do they have a chicken rescue like they do dogs or bunnies?

Kate and Crew said...

Tricia - actually I've learned a lot about chickens since i wrote this post. They WILL lay less and less each year and when they become seniors they might only lay an egg every week or two, but now that I've got chickens I wouldn't part with them for the world - even if they did stop laying!

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