Environment | Sustainability | Ecotrope

Unwanted Backyard Chickens Turning Up At Animal Shelters

Ecotrope | July 8, 2013 4:41 p.m.

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What happens when backyard chickens stop making you breakfast?

NBC News reports on an outcry from critics of the backyard chicken movement who say hundreds of unwanted chickens are being abandoned by their city-dwelling owners when they stop laying eggs or become too cumbersome to manage.

“Many areas with legalized hen-keeping are experiencing more and more of these birds coming in when they’re no longer wanted,” said Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. “You get some chicks and they’re very cute, but it’s not as though you can throw them out in the yard and not care for them.”

Hens lay eggs for two years but can live for a decade longer than that. They can rack up bills for veterinary care and feed, and they can attract rats and predators such as raccoons and coyotes.

Supporters say the cases of abandonment are rare and that the drawbacks of raising backyard chickens are overshadowed by the benefits of having a sustainable source of local food.

But NBC reports animal shelters are reporting an increasing number of unwanted chickens from so-called locavores. One rescue center in Minneapolis, Chicken Run Rescue, reports a jump in abandoned birds from less than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012.

It’s certainly happening in Oregon as well, according to Wayne Geiger, president and founder of Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary southeast of Salem in Scio.

His farm animal shelter has around 80 birds right now, and he gets frequent calls with new requests.

“The majority of them are going to be backyard birds that have been either abandoned or dumped,” he said. “Usually, no one wants roosters, and the hens we get are usually spent hens. People don’t know what to do with their old hens. I’ve picked them up at apartment complexes, parks, or I get calls from the Humane Society or animal control.”

Sometimes people don’t even ask the sanctuary for help. The birds just show up unannounced.

“One day you’ll have one new rooster in the barnyard and two more running around the road,” said Geiger.

The sanctuary already has its fill of roosters, which are sometimes sold by mistake to people wanting hens because it’s hard to tell the sex of young chicks.

In theory, the unwanted backyard birds could be killed for food, Geiger said, but in reality “you can have ordinance problems with butchering in your backyard and what to do with the waste products.”

Geiger said he thinks people need to have more information before they take on the responsibility of raising backyard birds.

“I can certainly appreciate wanting to grow your own food, but the full picture on what to do with these birds just is not being provided,” he said. “If people did have all the information, they might choose to go to the grocery store.”

Do you have backyard chickens? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Would you recommend them to people living in cities?

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