let's talk farm animals

When the backyard chicken novelty wears off

By Leslie Ballentine, Farm and Food Commentator

As many people are aware, the latest rage in the “Eat Local” food trend is to raise your own backyard chickens. Municipalities across the country have been faced with lobbying campaigns, disputes and even legal challenges to allow for city chickens.  Some municipalities have refused, some have agreed with very specific requirements, others just keep deferring a decision.

The idea of a few hens (no roosters) roaming the backyards of big cities is quaint. This latest farm animal fad began in England a few years ago, or so the story goes. It was probably an idea imported by Brits returning from their vacations in countries where the culture and climate means a chicken in every yard. Proponents argue the practice is both food and environment friendly. Yet there is a strong contingent that believe no matter how well intentioned, city chickens are a bad idea.

A practising veterinarian from Maple Ridge B.C. summed the issue up well in an editorial he recently wrote for his local paper.

“As a veterinarian, and as an advocate for healthy living, I fully support people taking control of their own food supply and raising your own chickens for eggs and meat,” he says. But he has concerns regarding their health and welfare. He cites examples of pot belly pigs and exotic snakes as examples of when the novelty wears off, or reality sets in, how of these animals are often abandoned. In fact, I read in the news of a retired California farmer (where backyard flocks are legal) who is opening a chicken retirement home just because of this.

There are many words of caution in his editorial.

“Before you go and buy some chickens to provide eggs, keep a few things in mind,” he cautions.

“Chickens live longer then you think. I have one client whose chicken is 15 years old. While some still produce lots off eggs for many years, most will only produce eggs effectively for three to five years. After that, your choice is to slaughter them for meat, or keep them as an ongoing cost – as a pet.

If your chicken gets sick, your choice is to humanely destroy it or seek veterinary care. Guess what? Costs the same for me to fix your chicken, as to fix your dog. Are you willing to spend $60 for an exam, or several hundred dollars for a broken wing?” he asks.

He also challenges the notion that home grown is guaranteed to be healthier. Fresher perhaps, if you can find where they were laid, but not necessarily safer.  “E. coli, salmonella, and some parasitic worms can contaminate the eggs of home-grown eggs,” he explains. Pointing out, “There is a reason we have whole institutions dedicated to insuring the safety of our food supply, and you are doing everything to bypass those safety measures.”

While he doesn’t go on to mention the other potential downsides of keeping chickens in the open in crowded cities, there are many.  Disease transmissions from chickens to other animals and people is a big consideration Not to mention the risk they pose to the health of our commercial poultry flocks; poultry disease outbreaks can spread fast in the open. There are also potential waste and pollution problems, especially if this trend continues to grow.

No doubt there are those who will take on the responsibility for the care of these animals. But the risks to people and the chickens themselves need to be factored in too.

Until the Next Blog


Posted by FFC on May 22nd, 2012 :: Filed under backyard flocks,Poultry
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