The dark side of backyard chicken keeping

This easily overlooked and not fully realized side of chicken keeping may not apply to those with chickens who have more than 20 or so acres, hence “backyard” chicken keeping.

So – one becomes aware of what is really going on the the meat production industry, the milk and egg production industry. ….and so on.

chicks-20151008-cover_0419There is a garden to be worked, organically, and with some permaculture principles …and then – there are chickens (nvm what happened to all those first roosters, long story) The flock is loved, humanely kept, allowed to truly free range, scratch and peck and mate and some of the hens raise chicks.

Eggs are laid, all is well, delightful. Then the chicks grow up and half of them are roosters …now what?

Same thing the year after that, and the year after that ….meanwhile, the flock is huge, the oldest hens are 4 years old, eggs are less plentiful in comparison, feed costs way up ….and the roosters….

I know, some say: What is the problem…eat them. Kill the old hens and make soup …

There it is: the dark side. …….the killing…or the culling – the eliminating of the ‘extra roosters’ – or ‘non-productive’ hens. But mostly, it is a rooster issue….Unless you live in town and may only keep 3 chickens in your backyard…what are you going to do when they stop laying?

Why dark? some will ask – it is normal to kill and eat …to that I say – normal does not mean much, in some culture child brides are normal. But really – it just means the issue was not completely clear, prior arrangements can fall through, the significance and toll was not fully seen or considered, let alone felt,  the necessity for and impact of “culling” not out in the open light….it was in the dark….

And strangely enough – it is getting harder and harder, not easier, to deal with the necessary “culling”.

Be aware.

It is not the heartache when your favorite hen is ill and she dies, or the lesson in letting go when a predator catches one, another realization about death and impermanence, not the obscene increase in feed costs, especially since it has to be organic feed, not your subsidizing of the eggs with your savings because no one wants to pay what they are worth, not the mites and the work to get rid of them, not the construction of the coups, not the getting up early in the summers to let them out, not the going down in the freezing cold to make sure they still have water, not the suturing up of a rooster who the dogs got ahold of,  not the hand feeding several times a day of a baby chick that could not stand or walk …none of that. What makes chicken keeping so incredibly hard for some of us is  dealing with this one thing:

chicks-2016-01-hairoson_2549It is the culling – the eliminating from the flock…of the roosters.

It is simply too hard on the hens to have that many roosters after them, especially when the hormones first kick in. There is not enough space for them to form their rooster bands and live elsewhere on the property, hence the above statement that this may not apply to those with acreage. The feed store gives them a chance to get adopted, but mostly, they end up at auction.

You got to know them, you know they are not separate from you,  nothing is, and you know you are responsible for them….always and forever. They all have their own temperament and personality …their awareness, fears and trust …programs running them and learning on the other hand…you even had a contract with them before they hatched ….or you can tell yourself: some were meant to be food, go to the feedstore, or that is how it is, we all have to die sometime or any similar such line.

…you are still responsible, there still is a weight on your conscience – even if you won’t allow yourself to feel it.

My advice for any vegetarian who wants to keep chickens: if you don’t have any yet, get rescue hens or a flock from someone who has too many chickens, even if they are a couple of years old.. (getting baby chicks who have been sexed just means their brothers were killed at a day of age)

Be grateful for an egg here and there &  if you need more, either pay someone who is keeping chickens the way you feel is a good way, a good enough way,  and is able to cull the “extra” chickens …or don’t eat eggs any more….just have  chickens around for the delight they are.

So there it is – if you don’t have a lot of land and you are the kind of person who thinks rats are cute, all animals ought to be able to live according to their nature, who has cried because the grass gets mowed or the carrots pulled out to be eaten ….chicks-d11-extrarooster_8012  …. just get rescue hens & forget about  breeding  any chicken ever for any reason – or keeping chickens except rescue hens for their own sake and maybe some compost.

Give a home to a few  ex-battery hens or someone’s surplus hens and enjoy them.

.…you may be of the kind that is already remembering a way of life not dependent on killing any other life.

The consciousness is in all of them, in everything. I am one, there is no other…is true…but that is not even it….look at this chick in the picture

….he will grow up

…he did grow up …

Never mind the “sentimentality”issue …what right do I have to “cull” him?

Interestingly, when I first mentioned about keeping chickens, the first comment I got asked by my teacher was in form of a question: will you be able to kill them?

I had not planned to (having made other arrangements) – and I actually could in certain circumstances, but in the course of “keeping” chickens, the longer I see them, where I am at today, the answer is : NO.

No matter how I look at it: It is taking life for no good reason.

(ps ..that chick was Wildhead, and he did get picked up to be in a flock – others were not so lucky)