I'm not a hippie but…

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Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder

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Chickens seem to be all the rage right now.

As I approach 30 my Facebook feed contains steadily fewer heavily-filtered images of girlfriends dressed to the nines, and is increasingly filled with pictures of wrinkly new babies and chicken coop build projects.

Do I intentionally surround myself with budding young farmers? No. These are everyday city folk in a variety of living arrangements all finding a way to make space for their own living, breathing in-house egg factories.

Urban chooks: Cool or cruel? 

One such chicken coop build project recently took place at my sister’s house. After seeing a 10 minute ‘DIY chicken coop’ segment on Better Homes and Gardens, my super handy brother-in-law threw together his own version. It took him all of one weekend and comes complete with automatic food and water dispensers. Handy people, eh? My biggest achievement this weekend was putting away my clean washing from last weekend!

As they say: ‘If you build it, they will come’. Before long, three happy hens were purchased and plonked into the fancy new digs. They looked delightful scratching around in the dirt, climbing the ramp to nest in their private boudoir and happily settling in on their perches.

But unlike chooks, time flies, and the ladies have now lived in their humble abode for months. I visited my sister and her feathered friends last weekend. There were the ladies, in the same place as they’ve ever been; scratching in the dirt, climbing up and down the ramp, sitting on their perches. And I found myself feeling sorry for them.

Surely they know there’s more to life! Don’t they feel trapped or bored or helpless?! SOMEBODY CALL PETA! THESE CHICKENS ARE BEING KEPT HOSTAGE IN 5-STAR ACCOMMODATION!!!

chicken coop bones chicken coop feed dispenser door

These chickens provide my sister’s family with a steady supply of three eggs per day, well and truly removing any need for her to purchase eggs. In fact, she struggles to keep up with supply.

It got me thinking: Why doesn’t everyone own a chicken? They are beyond easy to look after; Feed them, give them access to water and they’ll provide you with eggs and entertainment for the foreseeable future.

Obviously not everyone has a big glorious backyard suitable for keeping livestock. Imagine visiting a friend who lives in a tiny apartment with a 3 x 3 balcony. Imagine that half of that balcony was modified to make it home for a couple of chickens. A pallet of grass, a few sturdy plants, some inventive fencing – Voila! You’ve got yourself a tenth-storey hen house.

Don’t approve? Think that’s a little unnatural or unfair? I’d probably have the same initial reaction. But keep in mind that these apartment dwelling birds are providing their humans with a steady flow of eggs. That’s one less consumer of commercial caged or ‘free range’ eggs.

The alternative: Mass production

Ever had one of those ‘Bruce Almighty’ days where you think: ‘God is just a mean kid with a magnifying glass. And I’m the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to, but he’d rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm.‘ On those days, you’ve likely had someone (perhaps your conscience) remind you that there are millions of people starving to death in third world countries, people being persecuted by their Governments, people fleeing their war-torn homelands in fear of their lives, and so on.

The message being: Comparatively, you’re life is a dream, so stop whining and start appreciating what you’ve got. Applying a similar comparison to the world of city slicker chickens, is the concept of urban chickens really so bad?

Seeing my sister’s chickens stuck in the same surroundings evoked a feeling of pity in me. However, for over 25 years of my life I purchased my eggs without giving much thought to where they came from.

You’ll notice I used inverted commas when using the term ‘free range’; That’s because it’s a fairly subjective term, NOT a literal one.

A chicken being kept in a commercial ‘free range’ environment lives in an industrial warehouse filled with around 1,000 other chickens. It is one of five chickens per square metre.

egg rules

To be defined as ‘free range’, they must have potential access to an open air area during the day. But if you were 1 chicken in 1,000, would you navigate your way through the crowd? Domestically, if you buy more than two chickens there is a real risk a pecking order will develop and one poor chicken will suffer terribly for it. How do you think those dynamics work in a tightly-packed group of 1,000 birds?

The hipster hen practicing small space living on the tenth-floor starting is starting to look pretty ethical to me.

My sister’s chickens are blessed with an entire square metre each in their perfectly clean and cruelty-free hen haven, built with love by a couple of animal lovers (do I smell hippies?).

So, if you want to bring egg salad to the picnic, should you need to ‘BYO chickens’?

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3 thoughts on “Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder

  1. To me, free range means chickens free to go where they choose, not penned in by chicken wire. We have several neighbors (I live in a rural area, not urban) who have free range flocks. I had no clue there were ‘commercial free range.’ It sounds like an oxymoron.

    • I tend to agree. I keep my own chooks in a (generously sized) fenced area and let them roam free on weekends.

      I generally feel a bit sad seeing any living thing ‘caged’ in any way, but I wonder how justified that is particularly in light of the alternative – For example, surely keeping a chicken per square metre is preferable to buying from a commercial business which keeps a minimum of five chickens per square metre. It’s just interesting how the potential ‘cruelty’ bothers us only when its visible.

      Thanks for the comment debc.

  2. Pingback: Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder | I’m not a hippie but… | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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