Thursday, December 17, 2009

Five Reasons to Never EVER Give Your Chicken to a Shelter for Adoption

As I wrote in my previous post, a coalition of the following animal shelters and sanctuaries has issued a press release and position paper advising municipalities to disallow chicken-keeping:

Animal Place

Chicken Run Rescue
Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center
Farm Sanctuary
Sunny Skies Bird and Animal Sanctuary
United Poultry Concerns

They cite a host of reasons, most of which I address
here. They also urge people who want chickens to adopt a chicken they have rescued, rather than buying one from a hatchery.

There is no doubt that any creature given to these organizations will be well cared for, and that their members are deeply committed to the humane treatment of animals. These organizations have also performed a useful service in raising awareness of cruelty in industrial poultry operations, and in rescuing chickens injured and maimed at these sites. Nevertheless, I still urge my fellow chicken enthusiasts to never, EVER give a chicken they cannot care for to these organizations for adoption. Here are five reasons why:

1. Those who want to adopt your chicken from the shelter will likely be required to surrender a degree of their privacy.
Farm Sanctuary’s adoption application form asks for your birth date, the number of children you have, their ages, your marital status, and your employer. What bearing any of this information has on one’s suitability for keeping a chicken is hard to imagine. The application also asks you to check whether sanctuary adoption officers may visit your home. Similarly, Chicken Run Rescue’s terms for adoption require would-be chicken-adopters to allow their staff to “examine or make inquiries at any time.” That means you agree to allow them to come in at will to check up on your poultry management and ensure it meets their standards.

2. Would-be chicken adopters may be denied if they are not vegans or vegetarians.
Farm Sanctuary’s adoption application asks you to check whether you are vegan or vegetarian, and if neither, to explain why. They also require you to be a member of the Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN).
Membership requirements for FAAN include “a vegetarian lifestyle.” Chicken Run Rescue’s adoption form asks whether you raise animals for slaughter. Note they do not say simply that you may not slaughter the chicken you are adopting. They ask about raising animals for meat generally.

3. Potential adopters will never truly own a chicken they obtain from these organizations.
Chicken Run Rescue requires that you agree not to show the chicken, breed it, sell its eggs, or give it to anyone else. If you can no longer keep the chicken, you are required to give it back to them. Further, if they determine during one of their “inquiries” that the “health and well-being [of the chicken] is being jeopardized the bird will be returned to Chicken Run Rescue immediately.”

4. Low-income persons who wish to adopt a chicken will likely be denied.
Several of the adoption application questions suggest an expensive standard of care that would exclude many low-income persons. For example, Chicken Run Rescue asks whether there is a heat source in the building where the chicken will be housed and whether the temperature of the building can be maintained at 32F or higher. Farm Sanctuary asks outright what your income range is and whether you can afford veterinary care for the bird.

The heat requirement is not only expensive; it is likely unnecessary and may even be harmful to the chicken. There is some debate among authorities on chicken husbandry about whether chicken coops should be heated at all, except on the very coldest days in northernmost areas. An early 20th century book,
Open Air Poultry Houses, which advises keeping chickens in open front coops, even in places like Canada, is now coming back into vogue. One long-time chicken keeper here in Madison advised me against ever heating a coop; she never does, and her chickens are healthy. Some of the older breeds, such as Barred Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds were developed in New England in the mid-19th century. I doubt anyone was heating their coops in those days.

The problem is that chickens are more susceptible to frostbite and disease at higher temperatures when air in the coop is humid than at lower temperatures when the air is dry. (Warm air holds more moisture.) All authorities agree that proper ventilation in winter is vital to move humid air (chickens emit a lot of water vapor through breathing and pooping) and thus keep chickens healthy. After seeing our set-up, our poultry extension specialist advised me to leave the pop door open during winter, despite the fact that we have ventilation holes in the roof of the roost box.

I can only imagine what it would cost us to keep the coop heated to 32F or higher with the pop door open on days when highs are in the single digits. It’s a waste of energy when it’s not required for the health of the chickens, and during the day, they won’t go in there anyway, except to lay an egg. They prefer to be out in their pen. Further, safely heating a coop to Chicken Run Rescue’s standard would require proper wiring – not simply running an extension cord - another expense that could exclude low-income would-be chicken adopters.

The bias against low-income people is particularly egregious to me. The focus of this blog is “gardening as an investment in food security.” Chickens are an integral part of my garden, providing a protein source, free organic fertilizer, and natural help with pest control. Excluding people who most need to invest in their own food security from having chickens simply because they cannot afford to meet standards that are unnecessary is unconscionable.

Chickens are relatively inexpensive to raise; poor people around the world do it. Chicken rations can be supplemented with kitchen vegetable scraps and discarded produce from grocery stores that is in good condition. If allowed into pasture or yards, chickens can forage for some of their own food. In fact, they prefer it. Coops can also be built rather inexpensively (though maybe not to the standard of some rescue groups). We spent several hundred dollars on ours, but I’m more impressed with people who report they used scrap wood or repurposed an old shed and ended up spending only forty bucks or so.

5. Finally, you should never, EVER give your chicken to one of these shelters because they will use it as a reason to pressure municipalities to restrict, or refuse to allow, chicken-keeping.
In their press release, this coalition of shelters and sanctuaries “urge[s] municipalities throughout the U.S. not to allow backyard flocks and exhort[s] those that are already zoned for this practice to establish and enforce strict regulations for the care of these birds,” and claims that since keeping chickens has become popular, they have been “inundated with calls to take in chickens.” In their position paper, they raise the issue of the expense of “an extra burden, like enforcing chicken licensing laws and related complaints” for municipal shelters.

Every time you give a chicken to one of these agencies, you add to the numbers they will use when urging city officials not to change ordinances to allow chickens, thus making it harder for your fellow chicken aficionados to have chickens, and harder for yourself, should your circumstances change and you are again able to keep chickens.

So, what should you do if you have or find a chicken that you cannot care for? One option should be to give or sell it to someone. I’m lucky here in Madison, because although I live in a city, we are surrounded by farmland and rural communities. Many people from these areas come into Madison to work, and are happy to take a chicken off my hands – they have the space to do it.

I’ve had good luck finding such people on Craigslist. I gave six nearly three-week old chicks to one guy (they are sold in lots of five, and I was only allowed to keep four), and recently sold Little Jerry to another. When I gave away the chicks, the question crossed my mind: How do I know they’re going to a good home? Then I remembered that no one questioned my credentials when I showed up at Farm and Fleet to buy my very first baby chicks. I should extend someone else the same courtesy, unless they give me a reason not to.

As it happened, the guy turned out to be practically a “chicken whisperer.” He knelt down and gently stroked the head and neck of one of the chicks with one finger, and she never moved! It was like she was hypnotized. There are many good people who will care well for a chicken; many more than are bad, I believe.

Roosters present a more difficult problem, as I wrote in my previous post. They’re harder to give away because many cities will not allow them, and outside cities, healthy flocks require fewer roosters than hens. It may be that your beautiful bird will have to be sacrificed to feed someone less fortunate than yourself. For a rooster that has had a good life, it is not a bad way to go.


sunnyskies said...

Dear Wisconsin Garden Chick: In truth, the Coalition members did not compose our statement to crunch numbers, invade peoples privacy, or really, any of the reasons you cite. We worked out our statement to protect chickens--which yes, must include educating people on just where many of their birds come from, and the industry they may be unknowingly supporting. It is a very cruel industry. We addressed the issue of town ordinances in a way that we thought objectively embraced the integral issue of keeping poultry well, and also, as a reflection of town/citizen interactions and experiences in areas where backyard chicken farming is on the rise.

Please do understand that there is no shortage of birds being surrendered--the Farm Sanctuary is currently networking to place 16,000 from just one source. At Sunnyskies, we get many, many calls to take unwanted and abandoned chickens. All of us are truly inundated with requests to take unwanted birds--this is, indeed, a very real situation. And many of us are reaching max capacity.

Many chickens surrendered at shelters are euthanized. If that is what people want for the birds they cannot, or do not wish to, keep--I am sorry. I am so very sorry for the birds. Chickens are, I personally feel, one of the most misunderstood and tortured creatures on this earth--in their relationship with humans, that is. They are used, and discarded, with impunity--even by backyard farmers.

Across the country, dogs and cats in particular are killed by the millions--because they are unwanted. Killing has become the accepted solution. We are hoping that will not be the case with the current rising interest in backyard farming. And so, we have identified some of the issues related to keeping chickens well--and hopefully, well throughout their natural lifetimes.

One reason TO surrender birds you will no longer keep to a poultry or farm specific rescue/sanctuary is this: they will look after him/her well. Their welfare is, in fact, our most pressing interest. Hopefully, this is the backyard farmer's best interest as well. But the point we are really trying to make is this: that people, and towns, study and consider all aspects of backyard farming before moving forward to establish backyard flocks. The heart of the matter is, of course, the welfare of the chickens--all chickens, including those imprisoned and abused by factory farm hatcheries. Hence our request to adopt, rather than buy, your flock. Hence our guidelines for providing for the birds using established standards of care. Our statement is not an attack on backyard farming, but a request that it be done well--with a focus on the big poultry industry's cruel realities, the quality of care the chickens will receive, and the problems developing in communities with unregulated backyard farming flocks. All of these arenas impact on: the chickens. The chickens are our main concern.

Linda Brink
Director, Sunnyskies Bird & Animal Sanctuary
Warwick, NY

Wisconsin Garden Chick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wisconsin Garden Chick said...

Dear Linda,

Many, if not most, of us who keep backyard chickens know of the cruel practices in the commercial poultry industry; that is a major reason why we want to keep our own chickens. We want to give them a good life and eat healthy eggs from happy chickens. As I say at the beginning of my post, groups like yours have done a great service in raising awareness of this issue. I also state what you reiterate in your letter – that there is no doubt any chicken given to your coalition will be well cared for by people who are deeply committed to the humane treatment of animals.

Where we part ways is your advocacy against backyard flocks and your rules for placing chickens surrendered to you. I have had emails from people trying to get ordinances in their communities changed to allow chicken-keeping who report that your coalition sent your statement to their city officials. Your press release states:

This coalition is also urging municipalities throughout the U.S. not to allow backyard flocks and exhorting those that are already zoned for this practice to establish and enforce strict regulations for the care of these birds.

Your position paper states:

All of us have been inundated with calls to take in hens and roosters who are a) no longer wanted; b) not the correct sex; c) not legally permissible. As organizations with limited resources and space, it is no longer feasible to take in even a small percentage of these unwanted animals. Even with placement assistance, most of these chickens, particularly roosters, do not find permanent placement. This leaves municipal dog and cat shelters the task of taking in, housing, feeding, caring for, and inevitably killing healthy, adoptable chickens.

Clearly, the numbers of chickens you say you asked to take in is being used as one of the reasons you “urge municipalities not to allow backyard flocks.” In your comment just now, you mix numbers of birds rescued from commercial facilities with those surrendered by backyard owners to make your case. Those 16,000 Farm Sanctuary is trying to place are from commercial operations, are they not?

Regarding adoption, I would agree with you and consider adoption rather than buying from a hatchery, if the conditions an organization set were more reasonable and less discriminatory than those of Chicken Run Rescue and Farm Sanctuary. I have already detailed my criticisms in my original post, so I won’t repeat them here.

If your sole concern is the welfare of chickens, then I think you should join forces with those of us who keep backyard chickens. We also believe people should do their homework before getting chickens so they can provide proper care and we share your concerns with the practices of industrial producers.

It would also help if you would correct factual inaccuracies in your position paper – such as that chickens attract mice and rats (they EAT mice and their FEED (like many things in cities) attracts rats if not properly stored) and that chicken sexing is so inaccurate that, in your estimate, “between 20-50% of purchased “hens” are actually roosters.” Chicken-sexing is actually 90-95% accurate.

You must surely realize that claims about rats and numbers of roosters accidentally sold to backyard keepers will raise alarm bells for city officials and homeowners unfamiliar with the facts. If these inaccuracies were not fear-mongering, but simply unintentional, they can be easily and quickly be corrected by yourselves.


Amyable said...

I cannot for the life of me understand why chickens are ever euthanized at shelters. They are a livestock animal. If there is no one willing to adopt them, they could be donated to a food pantry or a needy family. There are plenty of people in these tough times that would gladly accept a bird to feed their kids.
Of course, some folks keep them solely as pets, but chickens have been kept as utility animals for millenia. There is no reason a bird should be wasted simply because it spent time at an animal shelter.
Thank you, Katherine, for your excellent discussion points.

Wisconsin Garden Chick said...

Great point, amyable, that should be added to the list! Why give a chicken to a shelter when it may be euthanized anyway (as Linda says above) and thus go to waste??