Category Archives: animal welfare

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)

 

Why am I keeping chickens ?

There is actually quite a sort answer to it: it is an expression of where I am at in the process or becoming aware and feeling.

When people are ready for something, they are ready, or predisposed, or interested, or resonating, – then and not before. The interest for a certain way to feed yourself has gotta come from your smarts, your caring, your own nature and awakening to a new level of sentience. I was talking to some people this afternoon in March of 2015 – telling them that I don’t really know how to get people interested, magnetized or fired up about the chickens, the garden and, of course, the wonderful eggs that become available for our bodies nourishment.

However, I did ask myself: why am I doing this ….this “chickens in the garden thing” –  other than that I love it – still love it after 4 years of often hard work, or “work getting a little old” and sometimes heart breaking times. I love birds in general, be around birds, listen to birds, observe birds, love seeing them foraging all over the garden, love listening to their sounds, love seeing them so healthy and well. …but I could have been a bird watcher then.

I presently “keep chickens” for the sake of the animals who provide us with a precious food, eggs – as long as we eat eggs and just about all our guests eat eggs … so for animal welfare reasons one could say, with the added benefit of deep litter compost, but there is more to it.

I have a vision and a dream within this dream we live in, a belief if you will: by keeping these chicks-201407-september_1367 healthy chickens, allowing them a chicken-worthy life free ranging in a garden, scratching for bugs, with a safe spot to roost and lay their eggs, by doing that –  a template is fortified, a way of life is given strength….a way of life in which animals who are living with humans for whatever reasons,  are treated with respect, are cared for, seen and loved – a quantum entanglement with this, rather than some other worlds. There is beauty and communion and magic and health and grace and flow …..

The is a  way of life where animals  are recognized, through their intimate observation and care, from eggs to old age,  as expressions of the life force and consciousness that runs through all things.

One can hear the vegans already (nvm what happens in the harvesting of vegan foods etc) about it being unethical to “keep” any animals for any type of food or human “use” purpose. I am not going there – however, even in free range flock who gets to live out their lives, there are 2 issues that will not go away:

The rooster issue:

When allowing a hen to hatch a clutch of eggs, over time, roughly 50% will be male. What will you do with them? There are space, flock health and financial issues. Currently, the rooster issue gets handled like this: when a broody gets a clutch of eggs, I tell the “to be chicks” what life they will have, and if they are roosters…that for now, once their mother is done with them and they are about 3-6 months old, most of them will go to the feed store, where some get adopted for flocks, some get taken and raised to be eaten. They know what life conditions await them….and I tell them…don’t hatch of that is not ok with you ..because I simply cannot keep you all. And – once I started this – plenty of them have not hatched. The mind wants to find some other explanations…like heat, age of the hens or some other such reason…but really, the question already is on the horizon: is there, or rather, where and when is there a point when I either will not longer “keep” any chickens, or…start “culling” killing – the surplus roosters for food?

The old hen issue:

A hens get older, they lay fewer and fewer eggs…ok, but towards the very end, before they get some kind of infection or tumor – would it be better to “harvest” them? In a couple of years, a decision will need to be made….but it does raise this issue: to kill or not to kill while they are old but still healthy? ( harvesting, sending to freezer camp, culling – as just other words for killing in most cases). And how is it best done, with the least amount of stress to them?

Yes, the eggs are more tasty as well as nutritious from chickens that are free ranged in a huge garden-pasture. In addition, they are fed soy free organic feed. But for me, the improved freshness and general egg quality are secondary. Seeing these hens out foraging is beautiful to me. I feels like the right thing to do. And I don’t force-molt them or use lights in the winter to make them lay more eggs, and if they go broody, they get some eggs to sit on.

Yes, those kinds of eggs DO cost more than the mass produced eggs from the battery hens, cage free or no not….and after keeping chickens for a couple of years, I know why. In fact, I am spending some of my life savings on it. …and I do know – living with integrity is not compatible with doing things as usual. These days, if it is cheap, especially very cheap, be it food or clothing or anything, it is based on abuse, either of animals or humans, including children, or the environment. If people had to pay what it actually costs, they …ok, most, simply would not…or, certain items would be special occasion foods.

I no longer wish to contribute to commercial animal keeping because of the atrocities and violence and destruction done to the animals and the environment.  In the case of where my eggs are coming from, that is possible….and meat and fish I no longer eat.

It is the principle, the integrity that matters to me: once you know, once you feel, once you really see what is done to animals raised for human consumption – maybe you too don’t want to keep supporting a system what is so so incredibly abusive…..and luckily, you don’t have to either…but it’ll cost ya. There is no free lunch here either.

One could argue: in eating commercial eggs consciously, one honors the life of those hens…..sure – and, you are still supporting the system. I am not saying don’t do it like that…but this is a post of why I am doing this chicken keeping thing.

If medically you don’t need to eat meat, why do you?

I would love to do art – but it is not more important to me than working on a chicken garden. I would love to have this very beautiful aesthetically pleasing chicken coop – rather than the DIY-reuse- every-bit-of-wood-you-can-find-put-together … rustic at best chicken house….maybe some day.

I do like my DIY feed storage though, even if it is rustic, here a picture with it almost done.

July 2015 - feed storage, not quite done
July 2015 – feed storage, not quite done

There are plans of doing some paintings for the coop, but the list of things to do that are basic necessity is still way too long…but never is this out of my mind: how I can I make this not only healthy and functional, but  beautiful and cost effective too – and without killing animals before they have lived out their lives?

It is still a work and experiment in progress, and I am not growing much chicken food at the land yet, for a little more self sufficiency and cost saving, still working on the coops.

If I personally were capable of living off water and the energy of the sun directly, I would. Principally, it ought to be possible.

In the meantime – to all work buddies out there,  does anyone wish to support this chicken garden project by sponsoring a chicken? 🙂 – hen OR rooster? Here is just one of them, a young girl not yet laying – as her sponsor, you’d get to name her 🙂 – and when you visit, you be sure to get garden eggs, even in winter, even if it means i don’t eat eggs that day….and no worries, many more chickens are available for sponsorship!

This one here gave me a heartache the other day by not showing up at roost-time…vanished without a trace, I looked everywhere…but then, there she was the next morning…I still have no idea what happened…and obviously I didn’t look “everywhere” 🙂

cw-20150902_9668

Update – see here, about 1 year later: a little more clarity in the dark side of backyard chicken-keeping