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The Chicken and No Eggs Dilemma

OPB | July 16, 2013 12:30 p.m. | Updated: Sept. 11, 2013 1:09 a.m.

There’s one big hitch to the practice of farming chickens in a backyard: If all you want is eggs, the hen you raised from a chick will quit laying within three years and live for another seven. For some urban farmers, it’s great to have a goofy bug-eating, fertilizer-making bird pecking around. Others simply butcher the eggless birds. But, according to Oregon farm-animal sanctuaries, there are more and more urban farmers who can’t stomach killing their birds but don’t want a avian pet and its vet bills for years to come.

Then there’s the problem with roosters. Even though male chicks can be identified early on, it’s hard and often a chick grows into a city-ordinance-violating rooster. Just last week, Wayne Geiger, the founder of Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary in Scio, woke up to three roosters dumped at his shelter. Lighthouse, Green Acres Farm Sanctuary and Out to Pasture Sanctuary are all at their limit for roosters, which are territorial and often aggressive toward anything encroaching on their turf. Only Green Acres can handle more hens.

At his urban farming supply store, The Eugene Backyard Farmer, Bill Buzek says that educating new chicken owners is a big part of his day. He says he makes it clear what to expect, and the tough decisions that need to be made when egg laying stops. To him, backyard farmers are a responsible group: They’re taking back their diet from industrial farming and own the whole process of making their food. 

Do you or have you had backyard chickens? What did you decide to do with roosters or hens who had stopped laying?

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