A typical hen's blank, psycho stare. Via You As A Machine/Flickr
As much as having fresh eggs every morning sounds awesome, backyard chicken farmers are apparently facing reality en masse: Urban animal shelters have experienced a rising trend of chicken drop-offs as of late, as people trying their hand at local food realize they just can't handle their flocks.
Locavore, farm-to-table, and myriad other new food movements have spurred eaters everywhere to make positive decisions about their food, whether it be thinking more critically about where their food comes from or giving their own hand at backyard farming. But taking on hens—which, notably, don't lay eggs for their whole lives, and often not for the majority—is a far different proposition than growing tomatoes in a window box.
Hence a story from NBC News blaming "hipster farmers" for a rise in chickens being abandoned in animal shelters nationwide. The story's use of "hipster" in the headline is pretty loaded, and its popularity on Reddit is assuredly due to animosity towards snobby foodies whose lives revolve around fair trade sorghum. But, hey, the trend doesn't lie. From NBC:
It’s the same scenario at the Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minn., where owner Mary Britton Clouse has tracked a steady climb in surrendered birds from fewer than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012.
She traces that rise to the so-called “locavore” movement, which spiked in popularity in 2008 as advocates urged people to eat more food grown and processed close to home.
“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.”
Proponents of backyard farming argue that plenty of people who farm chickens at home don't end up throwing their birds out on the street once their laying days are over, which is also true. It wouldn't be fair to let smug satisfaction at snooty locavore's failures overshadow the fact that, while a few hundred chickens a year are reportedly showing up in shelters, thousands upon thousands of cats and dogs also end up abandoned yearly. The point is that it's not just hipster foodies that can be shitballs when it comes to pets.
Still, speaking as a former backyard hen owner, chickens do present a unique case. No animal is easy to care for, but because we think of hens as productive animals, some might not be prepared to either care for them when they stop laying, or do what farmers have always done and butcher them.
It's an interesting quandary, and while it's easy to get attached to Little Red as a cute pet, it's also important to remember that they can be noisy, they poop everywhere, and they need space to wander around doing their hen things—namely clucking and pooping. Do you really want to deal with that when the eggs dry up? Or could you lop Henny Penny's head off? Those are the honest options, not dropping off birds in a box at the local Human Society.
The entire problem has an easy solution: People, before you get pets, do some darn research.