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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


Are Backyard Chickens Pets or Food?

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: food, sustainable food, agriculture, chickens, backyard chickens, meat, eggs, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Backyard chickens 

The backyard chicken boom is teaching a lot of urban dwellers about life on the farm—but it’s death that is proving to be the harder lesson for some of them. In “When Backyard Chickens Become Pets,” Meatpaper’s Kassandra Griffin describes the mortal dilemmas that take many a new chicken owner by surprise.

For one thing, predators from hawks to raccoons can break into coops and massacre chickens. For another, hens stop laying eggs when they reach a certain age, and then some hard choices must be made unless one wants to oversee an ever-growing geriatric chicken population.

Griffin interviews a Portland woman who began raising chickens and grew close to a hen named Lucky that no longer lays eggs—but slaughtering Lucky is a no-go. “They’ve been very easy pets to have,” she says. “It’s just heartbreaking when they get killed. I can’t imagine killing one myself, especially not to eat.” Writes Griffin:

In that, she illustrates a new urban problem: People want to get closer to their food, but often that means getting closer to eggs, but not to meat—few want to eat an animal they know by name. When older hens stop laying, the owner runs out of eggs, which were the presumed point of having the chicken in the first place.

Griffin goes on to interview less squeamish chicken owners who’ve made meals of past-their-prime birds. Says one, “I feel kind of sad about the chickens but not sad enough to eat them.”

Source: Meatpaper (article not available online) 

Image by Will Merydith, licensed under Creative Commons. 

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john downes
12/23/2010 4:26:59 AM

Who says you cant eat an idea? hahaha


gábor bánóczi
12/22/2010 5:32:36 PM

This phenomenon shows how materialistic our society became. We are stuck to the form, material appearance of a being and cannot see the being itself. My grandparents who had animals treated their livestock with great respect, and though they took the lives of individual animals, they felt a deep gratitude towards that could not be seen and was not harmed, yet gave them something to them as a sort of sacrifice. Of course if you truly believe that you are only what can be seen and felt of you then it is really very difficult to grasp what I am trying to express. However, if you can perceive that there may be something "behind" what meets the eye that expresses itself through the instrument of our physical and life body, emotional "body" and thinking "body" similar to (as an example) how the idea of the number two (2) can express itself in the specific qualities and behaviors that charactarizes "two-ness" in anything that you can identify as two, e.g. two sticks, two people, two dots, etc. If you think about it there is no "two", or any other number in the material world, yet we use numbers all the time to build our world. With this sort of understanding one may begin to develop the kind of sensitive responsibility, that will create a different relationship to the world. Even on a material level we, humans, gave many of the livestock species much more success, than most of them would have had in the natural world. Thank you.


eva maggard
12/22/2010 12:35:01 PM

I have had chickens all my life and have a hard time eating commercially raised eggs or chicken. I think it is more healthy to eat food without all the chemicals and the taste is so much better. I enjoy my chickens and like to experiment with different breeds, but like other lifestock, I know they are food not just pets.


stephanie regan
12/19/2010 9:02:08 PM

We have chickens and we got them for the eggs. I realize that I should have done more research before we got them because i would have gotten two at a time.But I don't regret getting them at all. We got plenty of eggs for the past 4 years maybe even too much. I also think it educates people and lets them know why we got chickens. I tell them how chickens are treated by industrial farms.Also got to barter with people for my eggs. I am happy to have gotten my chickens and know where my eggs came from. another awesome thing is leftovers never go to waste i just give it to the chickens!


karen608
12/18/2010 9:08:26 PM

Sometimes it is hard to think about chicken coming from a real live bird when you eat chicken nuggets. When I grew up in Chicago live chickens were still for sale, in the 1960s, where Mom could choose one and have it killed, cleaned etc. Try that now-a-days! It is best to view livestock as livestock, not pets, but a chicken can be a nice pet.


fatbikez
12/17/2010 7:46:37 PM

they are food in training. at least you know where your food came from!