I'm not a hippie but…

I own a terrarium


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Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder

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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Costa Rica being powered by rain, wind and and earth (much like Captain Planet)

Didn’t you always feel so bad for poor old Ma-Ti with his shitty little ‘Heart!’ power.

Aw. Sadness.

In happier news, there’s officially an area of the planet the Planeteers no longer have to worry about: Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a well-known tropical paradise. It’s a serene escape for seasoned travelers and a buzzing ecological hot spot filled with an incredibly vast array of unique wildlife. But have you heard it celebrated for its cutting edge technology?

Well, get ready to have your mind blown. In the first quarter of 2015, this quiet achiever has entirely eliminated the need to use fossil fuels, using 100% renewable resources for electricity.

For the past 75 days the country’s electricity has come almost entirely from four hydropower plants (thanks to heavy rainfall) with the remaining power needs were met by wind, solar and geothermal plants.

Pirris Hydroelectric Power Station, Costa Rica

Pirris Hydroelectric Power Station, Costa Rica

“Whoa! Awesome! Genius! Let’s all do what they’re doing!” I hear you say. Hold on there, keen beans.

A country’s ability to effectively produce natural energy is obviously heavily dependent on environmental factors. For example, Costa Rica’s landscape provides in abundance, including a thick patchwork of volcanoes, rivers and mountains tightly packed into the relatively small country. They are also supplying energy for a population of under 5 million with no major industry, meaning power usage would be generally lower than most developed countries.

However, that’s no reason to dismiss this encouraging achievement. This is a huge, reassuring step in the right direction by those in a prime position to show us how it can be done!

The humble and most naturally beautiful Republic of Costa Rica is showing us its able to produce enough energy to power itself while leaving its wilderness intact.

Look around you at the elements at your disposal – What could we do what your country has to offer?

PS. How much do you know about Ma-Ti? Check out his family history. It’s a bloody depressing read which has filled me with regret for mocking his undeniably second rate ‘Heart’ power. 


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The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry