You Absolutely Should Not Get Backyard Chickens

I was talking to a friend the other day. She’s a gentle soul, a kind-hearted person who says, “I could never kill an animal” with wide, pained eyes that let you know she’s not talking in hyperbole.

She wants chickens. She wants them bad. She wants the experience of fluffy little chicks and she wants hens to weed for her and she wants her daughter to have that mini-backyard-petting-zoo experience.

She has, up until now, not given into her chicken-keeping desires. For this I am so proud of her.

You see, there’s a reality to chicken keeping that doesn’t show up when you are scanning Pinterest for gorgeous coops. (I maintain a Pinterest board of chicken keeping and coop inspiration, by the way, if you are into that kind of thing.)

A continuous supply of plentiful eggs requires a continuous supply of hens at laying age. For us non-commercial chicken-keepers, a good rule of thumb is that hens will lay pretty consistently (with periods off for molting, reduced day length and broodiness) from about 6 months old until about 3 years old. Although you will hear a lot of anecdotes about individual hens that keep pumping out eggs until they are 5 or 6 years old, the general consensus is that three years old is usually the beginning of the end for consistent egg laying.

Call it Henopause.

Chicken(Wide)

“Woh. Was That A Hot Flash?!”

A well-kept backyard hen, protected from hawks, raccoons and Fido, can easily live to be 8 or 10 years old, and ages of twice that are not unheard of.

Bear with me here as I do some Urban Homesteader math. One layer hen eats about 1.5 pounds of layer feed per week. (Pastured birds will eat less purchased feed – yet another good reason to buy this book and study it before you design your coop and run.)

If a chicken starts laying at 6 months old (this is a bit later than average but it makes my numbers easy) and has essentially stopped laying by 4 years old, and lives naturally to be 8, a backyard chicken keeper is looking at 3.5 years of egg production time, and 4.5 years of Pets Without Benefits time. That’d be 351 pounds of feed going to a hen that isn’t making eggs!

Current, local prices for the layer rations I feed my hens is $28 per 40 pound bag, or $.70 a pound. Admittedly, this is a bit spendy, but I get the locally produced, happy-hippie, GMO-free feed from the lovely folks at Scratch & Peck. At those prices, it costs $245.70 to maintain a hen into theoretical old age and natural demise while you aren’t getting any eggs.

Which means those half-dozen cute peeping balls of fluff you take home from the feed store in spring could cost you $1474 during the time when they are not giving you eggs. And of course I’m not including the cost of bedding, a fractional share of the coop, potential vet bills, etc.

Meanwhile, if you live in a city or suburb, you have an even bigger problem: your now non-laying hens are taking up your legal urban chicken quota which could be filled with younger, laying hens, and you are stuck. You can’t just keep adding to your flock indefinitely when you live on 1/12th of an acre in Seattle. So now you are a Backyard Chicken Keeper without any Backyard Eggs.

If your hens are pure pets, this is all totally fine. These are very reasonable amounts of money to spend on a pet, and if you are not resentful in the least at having to buy both chicken feed and grocery store or farmer’s market eggs, then Chickens As Pets is a wonderful path to take.

There is another option, of course. This is the option you won’t tend to run into on Pinterest. It’s not the solution of a soft heart so much as a calculating head.

You can make the decision to cull your birds when they are past prime lay. This is what all commercial egg operations do, and what “real” (as opposed to “urban”) farmers do, and what everyone who makes a living and not just a hobby from animal husbandry does.

Culled laying hens aren’t good for roasting or frying but they make unbeatable stock and stewing birds.

So basically those are your two choices: you continue to pay and care for chickens that barely give you eggs or you cowboy up and you deal with the slaughter of no longer profitable hens.

Back to my friend who really, really wants chickens.

Could she kill her chickens?

Oh no. Absolutely not.

We both agree, she doesn’t have that in her. Fine, I’ve no problem with that, and I’m glad she knows herself.

Does she want to pay for chickens even if she gets no eggs?

Well, not really.

Fine, I wouldn’t either – I totally understand.

I told her quite bluntly (as is my way) that she should not get chickens.

Can I give them to a chicken sanctuary when they get too old to lay? Some place that has a no kill policy?

No. No. You cannot do that.

She can’t, and no one reading this can. You know why? Personal responsibility. Your chickens, your adoption, your decision, your responsibility to see it through to the end. You do not get to embrace the idea of a more intimate relationship with your food chain and then make that food chain – the food chain you specifically set up – someone else’s problem when shit gets real.

There is a local urban farming message board that is filled – filled – with people trying to give away their three year old chicken to a “good home.”  Are you kidding me? You own the chicken. Your home is a good home. And once it’s not, your soup pot is a good soup pot. I once joked to a good friend that I could stock my freezer for the entire year off no-longer-laying hens being given away free “to a good home.”

This pisses me off, as you can probably tell. There is absolutely nothing ethically superior – and quite a bit that is ethically dubious, if you ask me – about enjoying the benefits of a young laying hen and then turning over the care or slaughter of that hen to someone else once it stops laying.

That is not how animal husbandry works and it’s not how pet ownership works, and those are your two choices. I don’t care which path you take with your chickens, but pick one. Playing Little Suzy Farm Girl until it’s time to get the axe and then deciding you aren’t up for chicken ownership just doesn’t fly with me.

Normally I am a Rah-Rah Cheerleader for this quirky way of life, and I think any fair assessment would deem me particularly encouraging to beginners. But a chicken is not a seed packet, it’s an animal and a responsibility. If you can’t cull your own birds or can’t provide for them all the way into their Chicken Social Security, then please, do not get chickens.

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Comments

  1. I have been keeping chickens for 7 or 8 years now. I have never had to worry about chickens getting to old to lay, the neighbor’s dog takes care of that. Go ahead and ask me it I have ever been at the coop, with gun in hand, and just tried to call off the dog. After all, it is a living thing.
    I have since gotten my own dog to try to keep the neighbor’s at bay.

    • I had that problem too. I had a dog though that tried to protect his chickens and family from the neighbor dog. It cost me over $1500 in vet bills when the neighbor dog tore up my dogs neck and eye, we almost lost him. I shot the neighbor dog. And then Animal Control tried to go after me for shooting the neighbors dog. lol I told them good luck! I had pics of all the damage that that dog did and cost me. No, I didn’t get any money out of the neighbor for the damages. You’re better off shooting the dog. It’s illegal in most places for a dog to kill livestock. Take pics of the dog doing the dirty, and shoot it! I have another dog that wanted to go after our chickens, I put a shock collar on her. If that didn’t work I was fully prepared to shoot her myself. And I paid almost $2k for her. The breeder said she would replace her if it came to that. She’s a working dog. If she’s killing her stock, she’s not working.

      • jackie thomas says:

        We refer to this as ” Wild Dog Safari ” . A wild dog (pit bull) attacked our dog (small mutt). So the neighbors got together and tried animal control they said they could not catch the dog as they had been trying to catch that one. After they left the “Wild Dog Safari” took place. We did find puppies from that dog but idremember what happened to them. It had to be done , not like we could just keep our dog inside. The neighbor had a home daycare with small children. Dogs attacking kids is a real issue of any breed. Glad to hear another person thinks wild in the city like we do! Oh and we also had Chickens growing up in S Tx. . . in the city and we ate them!

        • I’m a S. tex man myself. Carrizo, Crystal, La Pryor and more! I have killed many chickens, mainly roosters. My neighbors on the other side of town wake up to crowing ?????????? We have chickens WoW. Dogs will always be a problem 22mag. Cool frio soon.cya

        • @ jackie thomas- you identify the wild dog by breed which seems to be there to justify the disgusting ‘wild dog safari’ you explain. I get it that dogs who attack must be removed (by whatever means necessary) but to make it sound like some glorious hunt is (I’ll repeat myself) DISGUSTING! Just out of curiosity, if the wild dog had been a Lab, would you have organized a safari? ‘Cause I’m guessing people wouldn’t accept that the same way as they might for a pit bull.

          • I respect living creatures but also understand the nature of things. Unless you are a vegetarian or vegan then you must face the reality of things. You eat meat, but you aren’t willing to do the deed??? Comes down to ethics. As a kid, I’ve seen rabbits, chickens butchered. It is not enjoyable but a fact of life. Eating your backyard chicken however is a little different if you have a flock of three I guess. However you must approach it from the standpoint of at least this chicken you are enjoying for a meal lived a fulfilling life much better than any factory farm raised or even “free range” chicken.

            Also, as a side note I’d like to interject that if you are processing the meat that you eat you will probably be more apt to eat less of it. Meat should be used sparingly to compliment your dish, not be the focus of it.

            Regarding dogs, I am appalled that you would allow a neighbors dog access to your chickens. How do you protect them from raccoons and possums? I advocate ridding yourself of a neighbors dogs (2) but any means necessary especially after a warning. As kid our neighbors dogs would come over and harass our rabbit coops inside a fenced in garden. We warned the neighbors and they denied that it was their dogs and my father told them that he would shoot them the next time they came over. Sure enough they came by, one got shot in the butt by a 0.22 and after that we never had any issues. The dogs were contained or kenneled after that. Don’t be surprised by the tenacity of people and their dogs. I have one, however I actually look out for him and do not let him run wild…

          • Becki, I agree! And puppies?! You should be shot, too!

          • Thank you to all who stood up for that pit bull. Any dog could have been the culprit, any breed, but most people react more strongly when it’s a pittie. I look over at my pit bull, who is sleeping with his head on my feet, and I know they are not bad dogs. Does my Trouble chase smaller critters? Absolutely. All dogs do. And yes, he’s caught them. I still remember the complete look of puzzlement on the face of the squirrel he caught the first time….he pinned it, bathed it from tip to tail, and let it go. But he’s never killed or even injured a smaller animal.

        • @Jackie Thomas-you and Michael Vick should be locked up together. Sickening.

      • To all and especially ” Amanda says” post . We went to court, ( gonna shoot the neighbors dogs, lot’s of em.) If it is on your property even peeing on the driveway, shoot it. Judge told us we should have killed it after, the conversation our lawyer and the judge had with the “old days” reminiscence of shooting other peoples pets that were on their property CAUSING harm to whatever.. inside the city limits, check yer local laws en such yall……………

  2. You know I agree with you. You should also know, I made the tactical error of naming my hens, and well, I sorta like them. That said, I culled 3 of my own inadvertent juvenile roosters last year. Was it fun? No. No. Decidedly not. But it was necessary and it was my responsibility. Just as it will be my responsibility to butcher the likes of Lady Gaga, Joan Jett, Blondie, Belinda Carlile, Britney Spears, and Little Bird. When the time comes… Actually I might let Lady Gaga stay.

    • Deb Foster says:

      Is your Lady Gaga an Araucana too? We also have a Blondie. I hadn’t thought of Joan Jett for our Black Star. We went with Queen Latifah. And our Red star is Reba!!

      • Lol Mine are randomly named; Spooky (Easter Egger – orange/red & black), Merida, Pinkie Pie, and Spazz are all Buff Orpingtons.

        Since I just got them last week as started pullets, I haven’t worked up to the idea of culling, yet. If I can’t, I will just have to expand when they stop laying.

    • You should consider changing blondie’s name to Debbie Harry…

    • When I was a lad my father worked at Sears and was a gentleman farmer he was the gentleman and I was the farmer.I raised chickens from hatchling to the dinner table.My dad for a year or two did the head removal I did the rest.I enjoy hunting pheasants but I was 35 years old before I realized a bird could be skined and not just plucked.

    • Pierce Nichols says:

      The obvious solution is to name your chickens after people you hate.

    • Naming your chickens is fine, but may I suggest: Marsala, Teriyaki, Casserole, etc. Works well with the kids, as the chickens have fun names, but the inevitable outcome is plain to everyone.

      • Susan P says:

        My dear friend does the same with her beef cows. Sir Loin was my favorite of all the good “beef” names.

        • I suggested to my friend that she should name her calf ‘Deep Freeze’.

        • We have bears that wander by our house now and then. We’ve named them Stew and Chili.

        • When we were kids and our family went in with three other families on a share of a cow, we named it “Meatloaf” *just* so we could later say, “Aw, Mom! Not ‘Meatloaf’ again!”

          • I had friends who named a pig “Bob,” so that later that year when they roasted him whole, they could call it the BobBQue Party. :-)

        • My parents had a sheep called “Lamb Chop”. When I was growing up, we always named our sheep – and had no problem with killing and eating some of the castrated males.
          They also kept chickens and goats – the male kids were reared for the freezer, and we did cull our older “no-longer-laying” hens… BOY were they tough old girls though! Broth was about the best thing you could get out of them

      • We had a rabbit named “Stew” growing up. It disappeared one day. My parents said that it must’ve run off to find a wife. I cried. I grew up. I figured it out. I laughed hysterically.
        The end.

      • We have named many of our chickens “food” names. Our rooster is Slim Jim, we have Marshmallow, Chicken Nugget, and Pin Yin (Chinese orange chicken) right now.

        • Ours have Japanese food names:

          Nori (seaweed), Furi, Kake (furikake is a seasoning), Biiru (beer..okay not really a food..)

          Our old ones were: Teriyaki, Tamago (egg), and Karage (fried chicken)

      • We have a Dominique that appears to be a cockerel; Elder William Broaster is the only one of the brood that we have named.

      • My dad wanted to named his dog Laughing Gravy… Lol Laurel and Hardy

    • I had a “Blondie” , a beautiful large buff orpington. A freak hail storm killed her. I loved her dearly.

    • I love the comments you made and I have been raising and caring for chickens for almost 4 years. I too have a Lady Gaga, Joan Jett, and I also have Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and did have Bill Clinton but he got taken out by a second rooster (another lesson of newbie chicken raisers). We have Jennifer Aniston, Bette Davis, and Carol Channing as well. It is definitely a responsibility. We have not had to cull any of our birds as either the weather or predators have thinned ours out (not by our choice, but by nature’s choice). Thank you for such realistic comments.

  3. Jennifer H says:

    We have 3 year old chickens and just recently got 9 chicks. We will have way too many eggs for ourselves (lucky for my coworkers!) but we will never kill them. Since I eat chicken I obviously cannot judge others who can slaughter their own; I just can’t do it myself. We also knew going into it that we would be losing moneysince we just wanted the eggs. But we love them as pets even more than we love their eggs :)

    • And this is a perfectly valid approach.

      It’s just those folks who want it all – don’t want to slaughter, don’t want to keep, don’t want anyone else to slaughter, don’t want to fund an old age home for hens. . . ai yi yi.

      • Alexandra says:

        This drives me nuts, too. Before I got chickens I went to a friend’s home and butchered one of hers. I believe every chicken owner should do this first…beyond the soup-pot, you don’t really take a chicken to the vet if a chicken gets sick or injured and you’ll have to do the humane thing.

        • marvelous blog and alexandra’s reply is spot-on. we raise chicken, ducks and rabbits for eggs, meat and manure on our farm. if all animals were raised with this consciousness we bring to the endeavor and slaughtered and eaten with respect, the world would be a finer place.

        • Actually, I took a chicken to the vet. It was one who showed up in the neighborhood so everyone thought it was mine, though it was a full-sized chicken and I only keep banties. Anyway, she was super friendly and, after looking for her home, I enlarged the “chicken door” on my coop so she could get in. We named her “Big Red” and she became a member of the family. She unfortunately pecked at a fire-bellied newt in the pond and it poisoned her. I took her to the vet who was unable to save her. I would do it again.

        • Actually – I took one of my hens to the vet after she was attacked by a dog in our yard. I then nursed her back to health in a child’s play pen inside the house for two weeks until she was well enough to go back to the coop. Had she lived long enough to stop laying, I would have happily kept her as a pet.

      • Exactly.

    • I currently live in an apartment, but grew up with chickens … Our birds tended to be picked-off by the local hawks, but one was productive for nearly seven years!

      Even after they stopped laying, they were very useful to have around the house … We fed them our kitchen scraps (everything except for peels), they provided fantastic manure and pest control in the vegetable garden.

    • PatcColene says:

      I’m down to Louise from Thelma, Louise, Cagney & Lacey. Louise is 8 and is still laying.
      Thelma Lou died in my lap as I sang “Amazing Grace”. I am ordering 5 chicks tomorrow from MyPetChicken and they will live just as my others have……..a very spoiled life. All 4 of the girls lived to be 7-8. I’ve had more good laughs from the hens than I get from 2-3 hours of comedy shows on television.

  4. While some of my neighbors do slaughter theirs, I’ve found I can sell (yes, you heard me – SELL) them for much more than the resulting chicken meat would be worth. Why people buy them at prices like that have me scratching my head a bit, but they do. I just list a free ad in the local paper and they disappear pretty quick. I’m pretty clear in the ads as well that it’s an older chicken and that egg laying has reached a point where it’s rather inconsistent. Saves me the hassle and gives me some money to buy new chickens with given my wife won’t let me get a roster.

    • Wow. I had no idea there was a thriving market for henopausal birds. Who knew?

      • What do you think folks do with them? Dog training? Snakes? Butchery? I might want to know more.

        • That’s exactly the problem. Some produce stores accept unwanted roosters; some of the places selling chickens will do the same, but on questioning them, it’s fairly clear that those roosters do not meet a happy ending. There are the odd places advertising “chicken santuaries” for unwanted chickens, but you can’t rely on those. Ultimately, the responsibility is yours, and unless you have no conscience whatsoever, you’ll despatch your old hens and unwanted roosters yourselves if you don’t intend keeping them as pets, and, incidentally, even if you don’t eat them, bury them under a fruit tree where they can do some good.

          • Crystal says:

            Oooo, I like the fruit tree idea. I personally have no problems with the idea of killing and eating the chickens once they’re past their prime but I think I’m the only one in the family who could bring myself to eat it…..but planting them under fruit trees sounds fantastic!

          • jennifer finn says:

            Aw. I found my favorite hen, Alberta, dead in the driveway — no signs of trauma. I buried her (couldn’t eat her due to her unknown cause of death), then planted a peach tree on top of her in spring – I am just about to harvest my first “Alberta” peach! Such a nice tribute to a great hen, she didn’t go to waste!

          • I grew up on a farm and cleaned many a chicken, for the stew pot. My grandfather’s farm was also a livestock market. I see a few thought errors? assumptions? in this piece, as well as a pretty snarky condescending attitude that really is unwarranted. …The author wants to say you can’t have backyard chickens unless you are willing to kill them yourself, and the author has no problem with killing chickens. The author’s friend can’t bring herself to kill anything and wants to know if it would be ok to give the chickens to a shelter after they no longer lay. The author believes this is unethical. …There is a middle way…does the backyard owner have a problem with someone else killing her chickens?I see that she mentions a no kill shelter, which do exist and are becoming overwhelmed by all the new chickens they are getting. …Plenty of “real farmers” (the authors snarky term, not mine. There has been urban husbandry since there has been urban, in sunset park and in Kingston, my neighbors have had illegal chickens) either hire ppl to butcher for them or sell their unproductive livestock with the knowledge that someone else will kill them.Those options weren’t discussed. …Presumably the author’s friend has a brain and can learn new things as can the author. Here is a thought, if the A’s Friend is eating eggs, she is already responsible for the deaths of roosters and less productive hens, because those industries would not be possible without culling, as the article indicates. Raising chickens and letting someone else humanely slaughter them is better than buying eggs from people you aren’t sure are humanely slaughtering. Having the experience of fluffy chicks and getting closer to your food is legit, and letting someone else slaughter is also legit, and time honored, and done by plenty of “REAL” farmers for quite a long time. The condescending attitude that all farmers need to slaughter in the beginning to be “real” is interesting, judgmental, and not particularly supportable. For example, how many dairy farmers do you think kill their own male calves? Nearly none.What makes chickens some new realm of higher responsibility than cattle?

          • Joan, I agree. :)

      • Debbie N says:

        There are chicken auctions the support the live poultry market where there are large Asian and Latin American populations. I hae sold hens to this market normally around $5 to $8.

      • If you go to almost any restaurant you will find Latino immigrants who know that old hens make the BEST soup and will gladly pay for them. I have regularly gotten $15 a hen. Cut some holes in a wine box to make a live carry box.

      • Soup base! Not only does it taste great, it is so, so nutritious. No comparison to store bought chickens. We were never sick this year and I attribute that to all the soup.

    • Margot C says:

      Being from Louisisana the first thing that comes to mind looking at that transaction is using the birds for training fighting dogs; not nice, not pretty, not what you would want for your treasured pet. (just sayin’)

      • Fight bait is exactly what my first thought was, too.

        • On my street in Hawaii, where feral chickens are in abundance, I often see local boys and men gathering roosters. I always thought they were for cock-fighting. Now I have another reason to fear the abundance of in tact pit-bulls in the area! I’ve never heard of training fighting dogs with chickens! Yikes!

          • My first thought was they are being feed to snakes. I put several roosters on Craigslist for free once. I have no problem butchering them myself and making a tasty pot of chicken-n-dumplings but circumstance at the time rendered that impossible. I thought they would end up in soup pots. The guy who called said he was going to feed them to his boa’s. I said you were just 15 seconds too late, someone else just claimed them.
            I lived with the crowing for couple more months.

  5. Thank you for a great read. I’ve never seriously thought about getting chickens (I’m allergic to feathers, so really how is that going to work out.lol) but I have to admit the idea of it often sounds so cool. I really appreciate you taking the time to share more of the decision making process you should go through before deciding. Nope, chickens aren’t for me. I’ve kicked around the beef cattle idea as well but I’m highly allergic to hay and grass so who am I kidding. I’m just going to stick with my garden and playing with my seeds and live vicariously through those who share their animal experinces and let myself continue to dream unrealistically of that 40 acre spread.

    • Susan P says:

      I agree! I can dream myself to be the perfect farmer’s or rancher’s wife but the reality would be so much different. I just have to live vicariously through those who can do what I can only dream of (I don’t like dirt or bugs or prickly stuff on plants. It’s’ a tactile thing) so really…who am I kidding? I sure enjoy reading homesteading bloggers etc who do what I can’t.

  6. Thanks for those thoughts. The idea of backyard chickens had become slightly tempting, and I keep having to remind myself that I don’t like eggs or chicken.. I also can’t imagine ever killing a chicken, so this deals with that issue quite nicely.

    What are your thoughts on backyard bees??

    • We haven’t gotten them in part because my next door neighbor is a bee keeper and so we get all the pollination benefits from his hives. And his honey is the best stuff ever. Head and shoulders better than even the $14/jar raw organic honey at the Yuppie Hippie market. I recommend a good beekeeping class and a few visits to a backyard beekeeper before making the plunge so you know more what you are getting into, but in general am 100% for it. Bees never need culling, though they do need maintenance, so my issue with the periodically ignored reality of backyard chickens doesn’t apply.

      • Many beekeepers do recommend culling and replacing the queen every year or two, or sometimes even sooner, if she’s not strong. And there is maintenance and work involved in keeping your bees healthy and happy. People who don’t do that work are known in the bee world as “bee-havers.” Here in Illinois, state law requires a certain level of involvement with your bees – you must register annually with the state and update the number of colonies you have, and they must be accessible for inspection by a state apiary inspector at any time. If certain diseases are found, they will require you to destroy the hive. So your thoughts are valid with bees, too. You cannot simply plop a hive in your yard and say, “Ta-da! I have bees! The end.” Having said all that, bees are great and interesting and more people should keep them! Sadly, my colony appears to have died out this spring (after making it through the winter fine), and I don’t know why yet. Pregnancy and a new baby have kept me from checking on them, and while hubby has been wonderful about taking care of the horses and chickens, he’s not comfortable with the bees, so they haven’t gotten any attention, and now they’re dead. Might not have been anything we could have done, but…? :-(

        P.S. My first hens turned 6 years old last week. I know, I know. But they were our first, so they’re pets. ;-)

        • I was called in to take care of a hive that had been infected by American Foul Brood, a very nasty bacterial disease. I had to drown the remaining bees, then incinerate them with the combs & honey. The hive body was irradiated so it could be used again. I kill a lot of small hive beetle too (which feels more like swatting a fly). Generally I let my bees sort out their queens, but I’ve had to kill non-performers on two occassions. Not to mention all the poor dears accidentally crushed and who rip out their guts to deter your interference. So yes, bees are not all peaches and cream, but a lot of fun and worthwhile.

        • adrianne says:

          this is SO true – my husband has bees, and theykeep him VERY busy. IN fact, hehas joined a beekeepers club/group, and this month he re-queened the hives.

          Not to mention all the work keeping ants and other pests OUT of the hives, keeping visiting invader bees away, and the work it takes to collect, spin out and bottle up the honey. But it is worth the time. He enjoys it, and I love the honey (I dont’ mess with the bees, though – allergic to stings… so I leave THEM alone, and they don’t bother me… ).

        • Bees retain mental maps of their territory and the practice of replacing them and putting them into a totally unfamiliar area stresses the entire hive. Stress, along with taking all the honey for ourselves and only giving the bees sugar water, lowers immunity. Let the hive sort out their own queen situation.

      • I had 2 hives years ago. I took a class 1st which totally helped. Really worth it. Commercial bee keepers in the north often get new hives every year so they don’t have to feed them all winter. Queens have personalities that get transmitted to the workers. I had one mean hive and one sweet and gentle hive. Unfortunately the meanies stung me a whole bunch and I got allergic. I was bummed. Usually mean queens are replaced early on.

    • dixiebelle says:

      We have chickens and bees. The chickens take more work, but give more back. At the moment we have 5 chooks (one spontaneously died one evening) and only one of those is laying. They are moulting, so fair enough, they’ve got to put their energy into regrowing feathers, but we have no intention of killing them because of non-laying or old-age. They are our pets-with-benefits, and when the benefit is no longer eggs, the benefits will continue to be scrap eating, dirt scratching, weed eating, and poop for fertiliser. And yes, we will probably get some younger chooks at times too, to boost the egg supply, and I’ll no doubt curse the others for being lazy, but that’s what we accepted. If we were going to have meat chickens, they’d be in a different pen, they would all look the same, and they’d have no names!! My husband would dispatch them, I would cook them. As for the bees, we are keeping ours warre style, which is a more natural method, which doesn’t encourage culling the queen. We’ve suited up and got the smoker going a few times since last November when we got them, but all in all, the ‘less intervention’ & low maintenance approach suits us and the bees better. But we are yet to harvest honey, hopefully next Spring/ Summer.

      I am with Erica, don’t get chickens just for laying eggs, unless you are prepared to keep them in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to, eevn when they stop laying… or do something about it. If you got chickens for a myriad of reasons like we did, then non-egg laying won’t be as much of a problem.

  7. Am I a bit of a hard ass for being of the opinion that if you can’t bring yourself to at least contemplate your ability to kill it you probably should not eat it/buy it at a grocery store? Feeling that you could never bring yourself to kill a higher functioning animal, but then buying seafood, avian, porcine, or bovine carcass at the mega-mart seems a a little, contradictory.

    I have no land yet, but I like to imagine owning chickens when I get a parcel, and this is the part that I think about: Can I wring my bird’s neck, boil off the feathers, and then make it into cat, dog, or hoomin food? Also, what do I do with all this blood?!

    I’ve also contemplated about dairy goats for cheese and yogurt. They have a finite number of years on them as well for successful production. (Plus what do you do with all those extra kids that are not female? How do I keep my buck away from my does so he doesn’t taint their milk? How old can a buck and his whither get before they are unpalatable? Is it just easier to artificially inseminate?)

    As my imagination wanders, I have far less feeling for the chickens or other fowl my brain entertains, and much more reservation about the goats. Simply, all the chickens I have met or owned are, well, they are birds, interesting only because somehow they manage to function and they are tasty. The goats I have met or owned, have personality… but they are also tasty.

    I suppose it all comes down to your state of mind about the animal: If you treat it as a pet, it is a companion and you will have a hard time contemplating killing it. Conversely, if you treat it as food, then its food, and there are little to no reservations there. If you happen to get attached to your livestock in the time where you are using them to produce eggs or dairy or what have you by the end of their usefullness, I suppose you could contract a butcher and donate the meat to the soup kitchen or someone else in need of it.

    I don’t think this makes you cruel, but calculating, certainly.

    • To be fair, the friend referenced in this article barely eats meat. She’s a near-vegetarian.

      I agree with you 100%. I think all meat eaters should look their dinner in the face once or twice. Re goats: I knew I didn’t want the responsibility of a lactating animal when I was nursing my infant son. It just hit me that I didn’t want to deal with getting milk out of nipples for any creature I didn’t give birth to. Fresh homemade goat cheese isn’t worth that much work to me. Kid goat is perhaps one of the most delicious meats out there, but oh man baby goats are cute. That would be tough.

      • Mishelle says:

        I have been a vegan for over 20 years due to an intolerance to animal proteins. I have also been an animal farmer for about the same amount of time. I am more than happy to cull roosters and other male offspring (I breed cattle, sheep and goats too) or any animal that no longer produces. I have received a lot of flack over the years from people who cannot understand how I could possibly be a vegan yet still regularly kill animals for food. About 10 years ago I opened a pet boarding facility on my farm. Clients really love that their beloved pets are being fed on farm fresh organic food. I increased my goat herd just to accommodate the increased need for meat with all the dogs I was minding. This has made my business almost 100% profit. In 10 years, I have not had to purchase food for the dogs that come to stay, nor do I need to purchase food for the livestock as I have 100 acres of grass. Occasionally a fussy eater comes in who has only ever eaten commercial food and they wont eat the goat, sheep or chicken I provide. This problem is instantly rectified by popping their portion on the BBQ and providing it cooked. Not many a dog that will refuse BBQ meat!! As for the slaughter, skinning, gutting and dividing up the carcass – all is done by myself in a very routine and methodical way. Honestly as a vegan, I cannot understand why people are happy to eat animal products on a daily basis as long as it comes in a packet from the supermarket. I am a firm believer that if you can’t kill it and gut it, then you should not have the privilege of eating it. And it is a privilege – that animal lived its life so you could be nourished. I had a shocking debate with a 10 year old who would not believe me that meat came from an animal. He was bought up in the city having only ever experienced that meat comes from a packet and no-one thought to educate him otherwise. The conversation evolved when he asked me what the hook in the tree was used for….

    • I’m right there with you regarding not being able to kill anything but buying meat at the store. All the meat in our freezer is from animals we have killed (or taken to a slaughter house mainly due to not having the right equipment for larger animals) whether we raised it or hunted it.

      We also raise dairy goats and have eaten the males. We usually slaughter at 7-8 months old. Like sheep, they get gamey tasting if they get too old. I honestly wouldn’t eat a goat – buck, wether or doe – after a year old. The does can be bred up until 8 years old and then usually only live to be about 10 years old and I’m fine with letting them live out retirement at my home after giving me so much during their production years. I don’t keep bucklings intact, but rather just lease a buck when I need to breed. When I’m done they go back home so there is no tainting of the milk. The goat farmer I lease a buck from keeps them pretty far away from their does – so they can avoid that issue. I will say, though, that eating goats that I have raised is one of the hardest things I’ve done. I cry when we take them to the slaughterhouse and I cry for quite awhile after after. I still get teary thinking about them (yes we do name all of them, even the ones for meat). I can’t eat their meat for several weeks afterwards – but it was absolutely delicious.

      Chickens are definitely easier, turkeys are a bit harder than chickens (I really like my turkeys). I cried when I thought I would have to put down my favorite turkey when he was sick (fortunately he got better). But I still dread slaughter day. I usually have nightmares the night before about it.

      One of the things my husband and I do is teach people how to slaughter poultry and meat rabbits. Generally we do this as a free service because we feel that people should know how to properly do it before they start raising the animals so they know they can before they end up overrun by them.

    • I asked my grandfather-in-law to teach me how to snare rabbits a few years ago, because I had come to the conclusion that I couldn’t justify my meat consumption unless I was willing to at least occasionally commit the act of ending an animal’s life for food.

      Personally, I think this is a sound approach, but I hesitate to apply it to anyone else. I’ve seen too many people get all “righteous” about their food ethics, so unless it’s something that seems patently obvious, I think it’s very much a personal decision.

    • ostara farm says:

      There was a time, before I had livestock, that I also believed that if a person was going to eat an animal, then they ought to be willing to kill it.

      Now my view has changed. I still think it is of the utmost importance for EVERYONE to have a personal and first hand understanding of where there food is coming from, but that does not necessarily mean doing the killing personally. I’ve come to this understanding due to 1)my personal experience with livestock and slaughtering, 2) a deepening awareness of the concept of community, and 3) my understanding of ecology and the predator prey relationship.

      In terms of community and ecology- as humans we are part of the community of life. A community is a set of parts that function together as a whole. Every member has it’s function. All members are not required to do all the jobs within the community in order to reap the benefits of those jobs. Specialization is part of functionality.

      What this means is that we don’t have to do all the jobs- we are members of a community. Here in my community, we get together and do tasks together, breaking down big jobs so that we can get it done. Sometimes this includes getting together for a slaughter, in which we all choose what we can contribute to getting the job done. Not everyone kills- but that is OK. This is an example of an ideal, but there is no reason why a bunch of you urban homesteaders can’t get together at one place and do a big slaughter and processing and have everyone help in their own way.

      I wouldn’t have a problem with your friend bringing her birds to a slaughter and someone else doing the killing, as long as she there was doing some other chore. I would bet you that by the time she had her birds for 4 years she will have experienced enough blood, shit and death to handle working on the slaughter as a cleaner or packager.

      The paradigm of the strongly independent American tends to focus people away from looking for ways to strengthen community and ask others for help. But the truth is- everyone needs help sometimes and not a single living being on this planet is “self-sufficient”. We are part of the web of life, and this encompasses not just “Nature”, but our human neighbors too.

      • Kristine says:

        Beautifully put

      • Patricia says:

        Now a community approach does make sense! Thanks for adding this post to a sensible article. First find the community willing to gather once a year, then get the chickens to raise.

      • “This is an example of an ideal, but there is no reason why a bunch of you urban homesteaders can’t get together at one place and do a big slaughter and processing and have everyone help in their own way.”

        OSTARA FARM – I whole heartedly agree with the community aspect. But um… just a question. What makes you think we urban homesteaders don’t get together to help each other out with this task? Personally, I’ve never culled alone. In fact, some of us even take it a step further. A friend and fellow urban homesteader and I actually coordinate the breeding of our rabbits or the purchase of new straight run chicks. That way when the time comes to cull, we are both on the same schedule. Many hands make light work, as the old saying goes.

        I take pride in the fact that I learned to cull chickens by volunteering on a small local farm that raises both their laying hens and meat birds (and sheep, goats, pigs, turkeys…) on organic pasture. Their entire slaughter process at that point in time was based upon community coming together and pitching in. And they welcomed those of us that wanted to learn with open arms and plenty of advice. It was a shared experience with shared responsibilities and always ended with a wonderful shared meal. In my opinion, that’s the way it should be.

      • Thank you – this was eloquent and realistic. I was getting a bit frustrated at the judging comments about “don’t buy/eat it if you won’t kill it” as I just don’t think I could – and I buy from humanely raised, local farmers, so not bug chain grocery stores. But I’ve been toying with the idea of backyard hens and the only thing this far is using them as soup hens or keeping as pets. I think your idea is amazing and thank you for sharing.

      • Very well put. I can’t tell you how many people I know that just don’t have a green thumb. Does that mean that they shouldn’t eat a potato because they can’t grow a potato? If they can’t grow vegetables should they not eat vegetables? We all have different skill traits which is why people are going back the community roots.

        I am personally vegetarian because I just can’t kill something, I’ve dissected and taken apart dead animals before when I worked in a biology lab but I cannot bring myself to kill something. I have zero issues however with others eating meat especially when they raise their animals in wonderful environments and do the slaughtering themselves.

        In a community you have your butcher, your baker, your candlestick maker, just because a person does not possess the ability to do something (even if it an emotionally based block) that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use or consume something. However I do believe that people need to experience or witness it being done to get the ‘feel’ for it.

        We still don’t have chickens for some of the exact reasons that Erica states in this well written post. Would we kill the chickens for soup? I don’t think we could.. will we end up keeping them as pets? I don’t know.. we are figuring that all out.. is it cruel to give the chicken to someone else in the community that could benefit from it?

      • Amen. This is an excellent essay on the meaning of community.

    • Blood sausage for the blood. And save those feathers for pillows or the compost pile.

    • Alexandra says:

      I completely understand your feelings on “If you can’t watch it being butchered, don’t eat it” and certainly I’ve spent time asking myself what do I think I’d do if complex society ended tomorrow and I had to fend for myself. On the other hand, one advantage to living in a complex society is that I can specialize in more than just subsistence. So I completely understand your point, but at the same time, even at the end of the world I’d rather find someone who can butcher the animal properly than make a mess of it myself. I would try to learn in a situation like that, but at the same time, I’d rather give my money and business to someone who chooses to do that (I mean a genuine butcher, not whatever’s wrapped in styrofoam at Wal-Mart) even today, pre-apocalypse.

      • TwoFatNags says:

        I completely agree with you. I would live to find a freelance butcher who could come “do the dirty work”. I have culled and cleaned my own hens and while I don’t like to do it, I also don’t have the time. I have to work at my job, and then work on my horse farm. Butchering, draining, defeathering and cleaning several hens is an all day activity. I would love to just hire someone to come out to my house and I could point them to the hens and a table to leave the assorted remains, and cut a check.

        I’m sensing a business opportunity for someone in the Seattle area.

      • I agree. I had chickens and slaughtered them no problem. I do have problems cutting the heads off trout. I raised a lamb and had her butchered. She was a lovely creature and tasted really good. Go figure. Nobody has mentioned the fact that the emotions of the person get transmitted to the animal. The emotions of the animal affect the taste of the meat. Temple Grandon knew this and revolutionized the beef industry with her new less/non-stress (physical) approaches to butchering.

    • Please, don’t even think about wringing necks. That’s not how it’s done. You slit the throat and bleed it out.There isn’t much blood, really, but it must be bled out while the heart is still beating or you’ll have tainted meat. And this is thought to be the most humane, as blood to the brain is cut off immediately and there should be little to no pain. There will, however, be reflexive muscle movement, which can be unnerving if you are holding the chicken. That’s why most people use a killing cone. So far, I’ve always held the chicken upside down to calm it while my partner slits the throat. I pray and cry over it every time, but I feel this is part of the responsibility of keeping chickens. If the chicken must be killed, I’d rather we do it because it will be done with respect, gratitude and care. If someone is going to eat the meat and make stock of the bones, I’d rather it be us. We use every bit (heads and feet go into the stock pot as well; guts go to the dogs or to the ravens as a peace offering; feathers are composted).

      We have goats as well, and a sick goat is much more traumatic to deal with than a sick chicken, though I have (once) taken a chicken to the vet, who ended up euthanizing it for me. (It was a young pullet that had been mauled by a raccoon and it’s leg had multiple fractures; there was no fixing it.) We have nursed goats back to health with some help from the vet, though they aren’t that knowledgeable unfortunately, and we have lost goats to bloat (horrible), and we have slaughtered goats. That is, we hired a pro to do it humanely. We’ve also had that go horribly wrong, and we’ve had it go quick and easy. They’re all traumatic experiences to me, but it’s part of the price we pay. We have learned a lot about how to do it right and what mistakes not to make again. Still, we get joy (and tangible benefits) from both the chickens and the goats, and we take our responsibility for them seriously. People should indeed think this through before getting animals, and bravo to all who are willing to grow up and learn what it takes to produce food to keep us alive. It’s definitely not all fluffy chicks and fun.
      Thanks for a brilliant, thoughtful post.

  8. GREAT post — this has, in combo with several other factors, been keeping me from seriously considering backyard chickens. Thanks for the straight up honesty and advice.

  9. I agree 100%. We’ve had a flock of 20-or-so birds for 7 years and we’d really like to cull the older hens. We just can’t tell them apart. I bought those colored rings to put on their legs, and started a color-coded system, so we could tell how old they are, but they manage to get out of the rings. Argh!!! So yes, we are feeding and housing lots of freeloaders.

    The Americanas though, I know they are 7 years old since they were part of the original batch of chicks. They don’t lay a lot anymore, but they still give us some green eggs.

    Maybe the solution is to buy a different breed of layers every few years so you can tell them apart. But, since we have roosters too, we also have several hens who want to raise their own flock of chicks every year, so then we have young hens that look just like their mothers. Again, argh!

    • Christine Hansen says:

      Do you have a smaller cage or coop that you could put one hen in at a time for a few days to figure out if they are laying or not?

    • Vestpocket Farmer says:

      There are a few simple ways to tell if a hen is laying. If you know your birds (and don’t have too many to track this), the colour of her legs should wash out as the laying season progresses, for one thing. A surer way is to just pick a day and go through the flock, with two pens ready…one for layers, one for non-layers. Pick a hen up, hold her in a football hold with a hand under her to support her; now, see how many fingers you can lay between the points of her bones below her tail. Remember an egg has to be able to pass through that bony gate, so if you can only lay one finger there, it’s a sure bet she’s not laying. If she’s not in molt, by this time of year there’s no good excuse, and she should go in the non-layer pen. Also, a hen in lay will have a soft, kind of relaxed, sort of “moist” vent; a hen not in lay will have a dry, fairly tight vent.

      • Hi Vestpocket – I’ve heard of this method, and tried it once, but I couldn’t feel the bones that I’m supposed to feel. (I’m kinda skeeved out by touching their junk, hahaaa, I guess that marks me as a non-farmer.) You’ve encouraged me to try it again though. Thanks!

    • There are various ways to tell age, such as the appearance and condition of the legs, etc. I’m no expert at this but there are good chicken books with info about telling age and laying status. I just haven’t delved into that myself.

      • If you have had a chicken for 3 years, not hard to tell it’s over 3yrs old!

        • Jeanmarie says:

          Yeees, and what does that have to do with anything? If you’ve only one chicken to keep track of, it’s simple. I have close to 40 chickens of various ages, and it’s harder to tell.

  10. I see lots of “older hens” ads on craigslist. People get stupid amounts of money around here for stringy old hens. Baffles me. We cull our own. Out of around 25 current birds, 3 will be allowed to stick around until old age or a hawk gets em. They’re favorites, and one is an exceptionally good mother/broody. The others are toast if they get too old, or get out too often.

  11. Definitely the part no one talks about!! I live in a HOA that prohibits chickens and for awhile I’ve been sorely disappointed about this… but after doing more reading, I’m pretty sure it’s NOT for me. I’ll continue to care for my garden and my kids and enjoy a no-pet/livestock life…at least for this season of my life.

    Appreciate your straight-up honesty.

  12. A lot of cities that are allowing chicken keeping specifically forbid slaughtering the birds. What do you recommend in this situation? Slaughter them on down low, or give them away on craigslist?

    • Will your city allow you to take the birds to a butcher? I assume they don’t want you to butcher the birds in the back yard, but there should be a professional out there who will do it for you.

    • I think that really depends on your personal ethics, taste for rule following, neighborhood and the privacy level in your yard. There are very good reasons cities and towns don’t want livestock slaughter happening at a large scale (commercial chicken processing plant – NIMBY!!) but small numbers of birds can be humanely slaughtered in a small area discretely. I think it is extremely important that no one else (who may not share your perspective on culling hens) be subjected to the sights or smells of a slaughter, and on an urban lot it can be difficult to ensure that degree of privacy. So another option is the proverbial “last vacation to the country” if you have friends or family that live in areas with a more rural pedigree.

      • cptacek says:

        Please note…Erica isn’t endorsing dropping off your unwanted animals out on a country road somewhere; just using the privacy of the country to do the slaughtering.

      • dan faelneerg says:

        I remember my grandmother ‘harvesting’ an older chicken when we came for special visits. There was an old stump with 2 spikes about an inch apart on top. She caught the chicken, put its neck in between the nails and whacked off its head with the ax stuck in the stump. The chicken ran around the area of the stump for less than a minute, its blood gushing out for a few seconds…about 5 minutes later she would retrieve the bird, unfeather it, and it would be on the dinner table within a couple hours. But she, like everyone else on the ‘square’ of that little town, had 5 acres, barn, pasture, and a common creek to everyone there and the seemingly best well water; and it was before we ‘outlawed’ ourselves with one trillion laws of which ignorance of is no excuse. Between UN 51 and the requirements of sustainability and having to have each chicken annually certified to be 100% free of disease at $15/bird (ordinance here, anyway) they’ve taken the ‘make-sense-hood’ out of having chickens.

    • Everett says:

      Discrete slaughtering and butchering of fowl is perfectly easy to accomplish. If you want to keep the blood spatters to a minimum, hang the bird by its feet, hold its wings against its body, and slash it’s throat. There’ll just be the honking sound of air through its windpipe, but not the splattering that occurs when the headless body thrashes, jumps, and runs around.

    • They usually forbid slaughter within city limits. Take them somewhere else to be processed.

  13. As an animal-loving vegetarian about to get chickens, this has, of course, crossed my mind. But even after they are finished laying eggs, they still eat lots of bugs and make compost. Which is more than our cats do and we still keep them around. I’m okay with being the weird chickens-as-pets lady.

    • Thank you! I was reading the comments and wondering why I hadn’t seen mention of how non-laying chickens can still make contributions that make them worth keeping around. We do have a decent amt of land (nearly two acres) and allow ours to free range for most of the day but part of the reason I elected to keep chickens is all about the visual stimulation and the added benefits of bug control that they perform for free. They provide wonderful entertainment and they give back – just had to find a way to protect the garden from them. The coop not only provides fertilizer but the chickens go out and scratch up the dirt around the fruit trees to keep the weeds down and circulate air. Roosters are delightful additions, ours are trained to enter a “penthouse” every evening which keeps them from crowing until they are let back out in the morning. The penthouse is double walled, insulated with air vents from PVC pipes that are 90 degree angles. and there goes Hootie right now voicing his own opinions from the back hillside! Chicken keeper in grade school and now have maintained a lovely flock for 13 yrs with culling provided by the coyote population in the gulley. I’d rather keep the older ones that don’t run as fast to a stray dog or predators than lose one of the layers!

  14. I really want chickens but we’re not somewhere that it can happen right now. Which is fine because I have time to think over things like what I’ll do when the hens start laying. I don’t know if I could kill the chickens myself, since I’ve never been faced with something like that before. I’m curious: are there places that will kill and process chickens for me though? Like places that process deer? I have a feeling that my old chickens would just give to live in retirement until the succumb to old age.

    • The problem with that is chickens sometimes fall ill and won’t recover but don’t die right away, get injured accidentally or attacked but not killed, and then the humane thing to do is to put it out of its misery, unless you’re willing to pay a vet to euthanize, if you an even find a vet who will see chickens.

  15. I am one of the people that believes that if I don’t have it in me to kill it myself, I can’t bring myself to eat it. Thus, we are basically vegetarians that will occasionally eat fish. We have backyard hens (and ducks) for the eggs, and kept the male duck that ended up in our straight-run selection, well, just because (although I hate him and he hates me.) Once the egg laying ceases, I have no problem giving them away on Craigslist for someone else to put in their own stock pot. I simply do not have it in me to do it, nor do I feel like feeding and housing a non-laying chicken. Our drake (male duck) will hopefully go once our new female ducklings are grown enough to go into the run, because I don’t want his companion to be alone. They all have names, but we don’t go outside just to hang out with them, so I guess that puts us somewhere in the middle of “pets” and “working farm animals.” ;)

    All that to say, just because a person isn’t up to doing the killing personally doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t get backyard chickens, in my opinion.

    • The problem with Craigslist is that you may be handing over your hen to a person who will use the bird as bait or training for a fighting dog. Disgusting, but it’s out there. Having said that, I did once place a rooster with someone I met through Craigslist because I went and checked out her situation and it was as she represented: she had two hens of the same breed as my rooster and wanted to start a breeding program. So he went to his new home and I felt good about it.

  16. This is why we don’t have chickens and probably never will. I feel the same way you do about a chicken owner’s responsibility, and I feel the way your friend does about my ability to kill them. If I can get over that, well, then all the eggs we can eat will be ours!

    Incidentally, this is why I was thrilled about the beef we bought last fall from a local farmer — I can’t bring myself to slaughter a steer, but I can support people who do, especially when, as happened for us, the woman I’m buying my beef from hands me a package of frozen steaks and, with tears in her eyes, says, “I hope you enjoy it. It’s always so hard to part with them in the end.” Lady, you cared for those cattle. I appreciate that.

  17. I understand this, I would have no problem getting rid of/eating one that was past laying age, but do I actually have to do the butchering myself? Do you know if there are people who will do the butchering for me? If I knew how to do it humanely and quickly I probably would, but I don’t.

    • Depending on where you live, there might be. But in my limited experience it’s easier to find custom slaughter for large animals then poultry. I suppose another option would be to have the vet euthanize them, but that’s expensive and then you can’t make soup….which pushes my “food waste” buttons. It’s not always an easy question, for sure – that’s why I wrote this post – so people think about this issue before they jump into chicken keeping.

    • I’m with Alison. I wouldn’t mind doing it if I knew how to do it right. I love having chickens, but am not happy with my lack of solution so far to this problem. Mine have gotten old and died. (Way younger than 8 years old.) I’d rather they go into a soup pot, but don’t know how to make that happen. I’d be delighted to sell or give the old girls to someone who would butcher and eat them, or to get help butchering. So far that hasn’t happened.

    • We used Storey’s Guide to Keeping Chickens when we needed to cull our roo, Dorkus–full instructions and diagrams for diy poultry slaughter (both hens and roos). Hubby brought home an old orange construction cone that we cut the top off of to make shorter and we strung it up to my son’s playset. That was the “killing cone” where we put him in head first. Hubby slit his throat with a sharp knife and I sat with him while he bled out into a bucket below, washing the wound with water every now and then to keep it from clotting. We poured the watery blood on our garden plot for fertilizer (it’s high in nitrogen). Then I held the book while he did most of the cutting and eviscerating, I scalded and plucked and cooked him up. He was young enough to eat the meat and get a pot of broth out of. Neither hubby or I had ever slaughtered before, or even seen it being done, so we learned quite a bit but were surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be.

  18. Hoo boy, did I create a controversy on a local backyard chicken list when I posted essentially this.

    See http://siciliansistersgrow.blogspot.com/2010/07/pets-products-or-something-else.html

    The person in question said I was a meanie; she has been afraid to post for years because I was so harsh. Now our city is facing some hoo-ha from the anti-slaughter folks while the city tries to update its backyard farm ordinances. I’d wager that some backyard farmers are “real,” if by that you mean willing to treat some animals as livestock.

    Oh, and a lot of the pet-keepers will justify it by not paying for fertilizer — the hens aren’t completely useless. Even conceding that, it’s not enough for me.

    • Fortunately it’s looking like it’s been tabled (the ordinances, that is). The one good thing the anti-slaughter folks did was get too involved and force it to a stand still. The city is still telling people they can’t slaughter but most don’t listen to them.

  19. Hear hear! This post just may replace “The terrible tragedy of the healthy eater” as my all time fave piece of Ericana. I was raised in an apartment, far from any farming reality. And I take great pride in my ability to kill my own chickens, be they old layers or meat birds. Maybe not this year, since I am getting gardens back in shape and there are not enough hours in the day, but there is another batch of meat birds in my future.

  20. Samantha M. says:

    When we had chickens we used to keep them around until they died of natural causes. It wasn’t so much that they were pets, but we lived on a bit of land and the chickens were just there. We got lots of food scraps free and they would go and eat bugs and grain from the hay fields so they didn’t cost us anything. One of our bantam hens however was a bit of a pet though, and she went through the strangest mid life crisis. She started out a devoted mother that raised some lovely babies and laid mountains of little tiny eggs, and then at about age 7 she started crowing, badly at first, then she started growing in some rooster plumage and then she took over the role of head rooster and looked after her flock for another 4 years or so before passing away. I have no idea how you would explain a transgender chicken to a HOA. No honestly it’s a hen, yes I know it’s crowing but it used to lay eggs.

    • That is just fantastic. Teeny little transgender chicken. Life is so funny and wonderful, isn’t it?

      • Vestpocket Farmer says:

        A dear elderly spinster used to warn me back in my youth—”Whistling girls and crowing hens will always come to some bad end.”
        :-)

        Yes, it happens. I’ve had a Midget White turkey hen switch teams on me, and subsequently father some sturdy poults the following year, too.

    • Non-scientific explanation of the whole hen turned rooster thing. Chickens are born with two ovaries, but one shuts down. They lay all their eggs from the active ovary. When they get old and run slow down or stop laying, the dormant ovary may become active. But it’s testosterone, not estrogen that gets produced. Hence, the secondary male characteristics coming out. Trust me, I’m way over simplifying this, but you get the picture I hope.

    • Jeanmarie says:

      Hens have two ovaries, but for some reason, if one is damaged, the other turns into a testis instead of functioning as an ovary. Chickens are weird and wonderful, indeed, and very entertaining, aside from all the other benefits.

  21. Chickens are livestock, not pets, if people took that approach from the get go things will be a lot simpler! The idea of keeping backyard chickens is to make fresh eggs and meat readily available to you and your family, sure you could name them, but when their best laying egg days are behind them, you slaughter them…It is not inhumane, it is the circle of life, it is rather cruel to actually let them live with the rest of actively producing flock because the social cast in chickens is very strong, and they will naturally be ostracized and shunned by their productive members, you will see them attacked on regular basis by their own peers as a result of them being empty “nesters” I am not writing this to offend any animal lovers, I am writing this because keeping live stock on any scale should be approached with the right education and attitude.

    • Debbie N says:

      I have one old hen currently, her job seems to be to raise the next generation. The others lay in her nest and she hatches them out. I then raise them for awhile and take them to the auction where a single hatch will fetch me around $1oo.00 after feed. In short she pays the entire food bill for the rest of them. She is curretly 7 and is sitting on her second set of eggs for the year. The last hatch was 10.

    • Mary Ann says:

      You may not think you’ve offended anyone, but you have. Chickens are not just “livestock” to some people. I grew up with chickens as pets and would love to have them again, but I really don’t want to see anything happen to them (cats, hawks, etc…), so I won’t get them, as much as I’d love to have fresh eggs and the wonderful companionship of sweet, clucking birds.

    • You certainly haven’t offended me, but you are wrong. I have no problem with people keeping chickens—urban or otherwise—as livestock. They, in turn, should have no problem with me keeping mine as pets. (Whom I fully intend to support through their old age.)

  22. An important post to read. Thank you. In all seriousness, by “stewing bird”, do you mean Coq au Vin? I love Coq au Vin!

  23. My favorite youtube videos on this subject: part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_S3P0eU0lE

    part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExGRrwlhldA

    Thanks for keeping it real!

  24. I took in a 3 year old hen a few months ago. I only have two other hens right now, so the occasional extra egg is currently welcome. Next spring I will get baby chicks, and when they are old enough to learn the ropes and start laying, somebody’s got to go. I’ve never slaughtered anything before (unless you count the mercy killing of an injured rat in my driveway), but I’m prepared to give it a go. I just hope I can find somebody to learn from, as the last thing I want to do is cause unnecessary suffering.

    • I’d recommend you look up “broomstick method.” There is a good description of it in the Storeys Chicken Keeping book. In my opinion, this is the most reliable way to humanely slaughter a bird when you are new to the process.

      • Zachary says:

        I second Erica’s recommendation for the broomstick method, a near-instant and humane method of bloodless slaughter. Especially when you have no need to eat the bird or cannot because it is sick. If it is sick, don’t spill its blood and check local or county ordinances for proper disposal of carcasses. Burying may not be okay if it is diseased (when you think about it) with regard to nearby waterways, neighboring farms, wild animals in the area, etc.

  25. Our local urban homesteading group has a “chicken recycling” service specifically for this problem. The chickens are humanely killed and, from my understanding, are used to feed urban farm dogs. It’s only a couple bucks a chicken and well worth it for those of us who get quivery about doing the deed ourselves.

    • This is a great example of a community solution. As more people keep urban hens (and frankly, potential urban chicken keepers with a limited number of space and legally allowed birds are my target audience with this post) community based alternative cull options will become more available I suspect. To my mind this is still an example of an owner culling his or her hens, not attempting to pass on the responsibility of care to a new “shelter” or “rescue” once egg laying is past.

    • This is a great idea. I agree, it’s part of taking responsibility. No problem sharing responsibilities with others who are willing to trade services, etc.

  26. Margot C says:

    Say Amen somebody!

    Totally to the point, and I know soft hearted chicken/pet owners and they are perfectly happy. Apparently one of the keys to this is buying the really pretty ones. I have no idea if there are varieties that are both pretty and good egg producers.

    I also know plenty of level-headed chicken owners who just break out the pot.

    Now, about this cooking and making stock business. My grandmother and her cook in Texas didn’t hold with that one bit. They fried those ladies up and ate’em (then made stock from the bones – I kid you not). It can’t have been that bad. They were both great cooks. the key to that is probably generous amounts of buttermilk, seasoned frying flour, grits and gravy. I dunno.

    • This puzzles me: “They fried those ladies up and ate’em (then made stock from the bones – I kid you not).”

      No need for kidding; stock *is* made from bones. Simmered meat is broth, simmered bones are stock, though most stock uses meaty bones….

  27. Colette says:

    My chickens are also pets. I don’t eat them. We did once raise some separate chickens specifically for eating, which was fine. My laying hens are my pets who happen to lay tasty eggs. Does this mean sometimes I don’t get as many eggs? Well sometimes. I do have a fair amount of turn over though. I let my chickens truly free range. They are not locked in and can go wherever they want. We also have eagles in the area. So I loose a few chickens each year, and I buy some chicks every few years. I suppose this accomplishes roughly the same thing as my throwing the older chickens into the stew pot. I have had some fairly old chickens who were still laying, but they only rarely make it beyond age 6 or so due to predation. I figure this is worth their having a life full of freedom to enjoy the outdoors.

    • I love that idea, and would not mind feeding the eagles on occasion. But between the coyotes and the neighbour’s dogs, no one would last more than 6 days. I have had flocks roaming free briefly on our ten acres, and it was such fun to see them form social groups, and hear them calling to each other. Some would roost in trees. These days, I am tempted to keep them just indoors. The coop is large and the next flock will be small. Must clean coop first. Must finish planting garden and greenhouse first. Need 48 hour days.

      • One additional item I forgot to mention was that our chickens are well protected each lot has its own coop which I clean daily and each is fenced including a fence over the top of their yard. Without this fortress approach we would be feeding owls, eagles, hawks, etc.etc, For us it is a commitment to protect as it is with all of the other animals on our farm.

  28. There are other options. We raise chickens and ducks and eat all kinds if meat but my children raise their birds primarily to show them (the eggs are a nice benefit). But when they have an animal that does not show well they either sell it on Craig’s list or they take it to the local farmers market/auction and sell it. They have never had a problem with either if these. They know that the people who purchase them may slaughter and eat them, and that’s fine. They just prefer not to eat their own animals. I have plenty of friends that go either way on this. Some raise and slaughter their own animals others sell off or trade live animals for already slaughtered ones as they do not care to eat the animals they have raised. There is no right or wrong way to do this. My children have also take in many unwanted animals. Occasionally they will get attached and we end up with a pet mutt chicken. Lol. And that’s fine. We love them and care for them just as we do all of our animals. But for the most part they are livestock. Just because we cannot kill and eat our own animals does not make us any less farmers than anyone else. We just happen to live in an area where we have a lot of options. Again, life isn’t black and white and I believe we are all entitled to our opinions.

  29. That’s why you should rent a chicken first: http://www.landssake.org/farm/rent-a-chicken

    They’re springing up across the US

  30. Thanks for this post.
    For me the reality came home when we visited my MIL in Central America. I helped feed the chickens in the morning, and then my husband helped her catch the hen that would be lunch. I couldn’t stick around for the butchery process, but was happy to take an “after shot” of the delicious stew she made for lunch.
    Were we ever to move to his home country, that will be the process. You want eggs? Raise the hens. You want chicken stew? You cull your flock…. or in my case… let hubs do that bit… i can handle the bird after she’s defeathered.

  31. Dana Rose says:

    We are vegetarians, our chickens are free range, and we have never needed to kill any of our birds. They are welcome to grow old in thanks for the many eggs we recieved. If I needed to cull, I would just take the chicken to the local wildlife rehabilitation center. They have cougars, wolves, foxes, raccoons etc. to feed and gladly accept free meat.

  32. Most farm families these days don’t slaughter their animals themselves, they take the animals to a butcher. It is tough to slaughter animals you personally raised, seems like a betrayal. Paying a butcher is perfectly valid.

    • Agreed. Paying a butcher is of course perfectly valid if you don’t mind the expense. I should have been more clear about that in the post. I am skeptical as to how many urban areas have custom drop in poultry slaughter though. It’s not thinking about the end game on urban livestock before you do it, and then figuring a no kill sanctuary or friend with land will care for a hen once it is past lay that isn’t, to me, valid.

  33. TOTALLY agree!! I do understand that there are people out there that cannot stomach slaughtering their own animals. I choose to do so. I name all my animals (not all the chickens, because I can’t always tell them apart) and I butcher them. My mom on the other hand, cannot butcher, but she chooses to eat meat that has been cared for and slaughtered the way SHE would if she could get up the nerve. I don’t think eating meat SHOULD be easy, which seems to be what most meat eaters out there think.

  34. Monique says:

    I have trouble thinning seedlings, so this is definitely not for me ;)

    • I have that problem, but my thinking is more along the lines: “Why can’t I find another place to plant you so you make me more tomatoes?!” Because, obviously, six viable tomato plants are not enough for my balcony…

      • Now the thinning problem sounds a lot like me!
        I have butchered our own chickens; killed, field dressed and put venison in the freezer … in our area, if you can’t handle doing your own butchering, there are some local farmers that will do it for you … not sure what they charge, around $2 apiece, I think (probably a bargain!).
        And “old” chickens or ducks are made wonderfully tender by canning … my mom did that a lot!

  35. Am I a bad person b/c all I could think of while reading is, Stewing hen! Best chicken stock ever! In my defense, I grew up on a farm; my father raised mink and my mother had chickens. The life cycle of non-pet animals is very familiar to me. I salute those who raise their animals in humane conditions, which was not even a consideration when I was a child in the 1950s.

  36. Pauline says:

    I just had this conversation with my best friend this morning. I have 5 chikens 4 hens and 1 roo. We have a neighbor who got chickens,.. she has 4 big dogs and was so shocked that her dogs killed 2 of her chickens before they ever even made it into the fancy new very expensive coop she bought. She said her children were very upset. Her own fault that she jumped in before she really thought about how to handle her “4 big dogs”, her kids disappointments or trauma at the death of the birds etc…Well the Chicken keeping experience is all well and good to teach kids , but they need to learn the whole experience not just the good, but the good the bad the ugly side of it as well.. after all most of us anyhow, we dont keep chickens for the fun of it, that’s a side benefit for many of us who do.. but we ultimately keep them for healthier options to the GMO world. My husband , and kids were a little surprised at the heart felt loss we had when our first chicken died of causes we did not understand, then 2 dissapeared from we think Hawks, but it was a good thing for us to have gone thru because when it happens now its a reality of keeping free range chickens and sometimes they die and sometimes we need to be the reason they need to die. We got them for food. I cant kill them, but I choose to pay to have them butchered. But they will go when they don’t serve a purpose or we cant afford to feed them. My favorite book all my life has been Charlotte’s web, I even named my Daughter Charlotte. But life is life, and our food comes form the circle. Be responsible and dont get or keep an animal that will not be fed or provided for through its whole life by you..

  37. Linda McHenry says:

    Ours are pets……three are going into their third year and we have two new five week old chicks brooding in the sunroom. We’ll never kill and eat….they will live to their old hen dotage and we’ll be happy for it.

  38. We have had chickens for four years now, and we dont have a problem. The Coyotes, hawks, skunks, field rats, ect…ect…. eat so many of them. We used to have 60 at one time, now we are down to just 16 laying hens and two roosters, and 12 2 month old babies. I call them teenagers, as they lay at 6 months old. We have killed and ate some before. My grandchildren love to hold and pet them from birth through adulthood. The grandchildren have helped pluck feathers as well. Now I have one grandaughter who through her experiances at Gramys house that wants to be a Veterinarian when she grows up. These are experiances you dont get everyday in the city. As for the cost, yes it does cost to raise chickens, but everything costs money. I say just try it you might like it. And, you might learn from the experiance. As for naming them, we never do that.

  39. After we took one of our hens to the vet because of a vent prolapse, we accepted that our girls are definitely pets, who happen to make us food.
    I know I don’t have it in me to cull a bird, and my husband says he could if it were suffering, but not if it just stopped laying, so we will be keeping our four ladies until they succumb to natural causes, be that predation, disease, or old age. And we’re fine with that.
    Full disclosure; I’m vegetarian, he isn’t.

  40. Great, great post! I recently posted about loss of half a flock on my blog. We are all responsible for our flocks, good and bad . . . and sad.
    http://fortpelhamfarm.com/2013/04/08/half-a-flock/

  41. Stephanie says:

    We have 5 hens, they are 1 year old now. We can have up to 8 in our coop. The plan is to get 3 new hens next spring so they’ll take over when the older hens start to slow down. I’m figuring we’ll lose a few along the way to hawks and dogs and disease. So far only one’s been bit by a dog and she recovered. But I intend to keep them as long as they’ll live. They are eating the ticks in the yard, and I really don’t care if they lay any eggs if they’ll just keep eating the ticks and other bugs!

  42. I loved your post. I, too, wanted backyard chickens but when I did some research and discovered that the egg-laying life of a hen is far shorter than their actual life-span I thought twice about it. I have no qualms about eating meat, but I just know that I couldn’t kill a creature that I fed from a fuzzy, peeping chick. Let alone cooking and eating it. My grandma raised chickens for food and eggs, but the ones that got named escaped the axe.

  43. What about a “chicken rental” operation? Like how you can rent a few goats to cull weeds and blackberry mounds, it would be swell to rent a few ladies to do bug and slug control. Old birds could work wonders, they know a good bug meal when they hear it, and you don’t have to worry about them hiding eggs all over the place to tempt rats, raccoons and possums…

  44. In Denver they have a chicken “recycling” program ( I believe this is what Robin mention above). I think it is run by DUH? I really, REALLY don’t agree with it. I agree with you Erica, if you can’t cowboy up to do it yourself, you should be careful about getting birds to begin with.
    I think, as hard as it might be, learning to do it yourself is part of the responsibility of keeping chickens. We had to work up to it too, and it can be helpful to have someone else show you how to do it the first time or two.
    I think it gives the bird much more honor to make it a meal for yourself than to claim to “recycle” it and then toss it away to some random dog you don’t even know. Might as well toss it in the alley.
    We pay a premium for high-quality, whole grain, organic, GMO, corn free and soy free feed. We like healthy eggs. We’re sure as hell not going to waste the healthy meat on someone else’s dog.
    p.s. – No offense, Robin! I love you and miss you!

  45. Fascinating discussion. I have pondered the whole “should I eat meat, if I can’t kill it” question. I think if me or mine were starving, I could kill just about anything, but, short of starvation, probably not. That said, I don’t kid myself that the meat I eat is manufactured somewhere, I bear in mind some animal had to die so I could eat it.
    That said, our society is based on trades. You can’t do everything for yourself. So, I can knit socks, you can’t, does that mean you can’t wear socks, because you haven’t bothered to learn to knit? As long as you don’t pretend about what’s going on (do I want to eat meat that was basically tortured as they were raised?) maybe trade offs are OK.

    • Absolutely! But there’s already a pretty well-established system for getting eggs without the various responsibilities of chicken-keeping. It’s….just buy eggs. Ideally, buy them from someone raising hens in a way you can support. So I think the analogy is more akin to, “If you decide you want to raise sheep in order to have wool for knitting socks, you have to then deal with the realities of shearing sheep.”

  46. Recipe technique please? We did our first slaughter this winter, 9-10 month old rooster. I tried a crockpot low temp simmer to keep the meat from getting tough, but it wasn’t so good. Great stock, rubbery meat. We have a couple of hens who have not earned a permanent retirement pension and I would like a better way to use the meat.

    • Our backyard birds are never going to be as mushy as store-bought. After a long simmer I remove the bird and let it cool a bit, then chop the meat *against the grain* and use it in a recipe calling for pre-cooked meat. Throw the bones back in the stock and simmer for a while longer with mirepoix (onion, carrots & celery). Strain everything out and give to the other chickens. They will pick through it and find every tiny edible bit. You can put the chopped meat back in the stock at this point – along with some more finely chopped mirepoix & a bit of garlic. Serve hot soup over elbow macaroni with a sprinkle of parsley.

    • That’s weird, we had really good luck crock-potting our 10 month old barred rock rooster… lots of dark meat, basically fell off the bones so only options were chicken & rice, chicken stew, or chicken pot pie… but it was delicious (my only regret was leaving the skin on, the broth was really oily). Did you let the chicken “rest” for 1-3 days in the refrigerator to let rigor mortis pass before cooking the bird? I’ve heard that makes a difference. Also, the temp. your crock pot cooks at… some cook a bit high, even on low temp, and would be better off slow-cooked in a cast iron dutch oven.

    • Jeanmarie says:

      I was taught that a chicken carcass should “rest” in the refrigerator for 24 hours before either cooking or freezing, presumably for better texture. (This is of course after plucking and cleaning.) I’ve always done it that way. We have ended up making ours into soup/stock.

  47. stephanie says:

    Fortunately, we live near a tiger rescue facility! That pesky rooster of ours who is getting overly aggressive may soon find himself in an early and swift retirement.

  48. I have also been thinking about getting chickens for a while, but, among other things, I am a little worried about bird flu (influenza jumping from wild birds to your chickens and then to you). Does keeping them in enclosures all the time prevent transmission of diseases from wild birds?

  49. When my grandparents had pigs, they named them Bacon, Ham and Sausage, to keep us kids from getting too attached, and it really did help when they were all cute and pink. …maybe one could do the same with the chickens? How about Nugget, Stew-ie and Soupey Sal? :)

  50. Great post Erica. Amen.

    Can we just go ahead and expand this from just chickens to every other freaking pet people may be tempted to get? If someone can’t handle any “end of life planning” and all that entails, better not get that cute puppy/kitten/foal either!

    I am so sick of seeing people dumping their old dogs and cats on craigslist and their old, crippled horses at the auction. Just take some damn responsibility people and put YOUR old animal down!

    • Dan Faelneerg says:

      Thats so true about people dumping unwanted animals…Florida has a big problem with huge boas now.

  51. Homebrew Husband says:

    When you are a kid and you say “Mom, dad, I want a puppy!” your parents sit you down and give you the stern talk about cleaning up after the puppy and feeding the puppy and walking the puppy and housebreaking the puppy and perhaps then you don’t want a puppy anymore. Once we are grownups, no-one does that anymore so when we have romanticized visions of something (chickens, boats, motorcycles, tattoos, etc.) it is easy to miss the downside, the risk, and the eventual endgame. I think, in fact, there should be a version of this post for a whole lot of other crazy notions that adults sometimes get…

  52. I have found that both my alligator and burmese python love chickens and are not agist whatsoever.

  53. Cally Brown says:

    We have a bit of land in the country. As I am vegetarian, I chose to buy pullets, and to have no rooster, because I didn’t want to have to kill any. We have plenty of room, so a large part of the diet is what they scratch and find. I have a feeder for their pellets, so they help them selves. I find that when they moult and go off the lay, the pellet consumption drops a LOT. I keep my old girls, and I never see my one last geriatric hen at the feeder. So I’m thinking your calculations may be a bit off.

    But as for no killing hens – Our dog suddenly developed a liking for chicken and I arrived home one day to find he had managed to get into the run, killed one chook and ate (most of) her, but had also wounded another so badly that there was no way she could survive, but in the mean time, she was suffering dreadfully. My husband was at work, I knew no one locally, so I had the choice of leaving her to bleed out of her ears, eyes, mouth, body until she died a natural death, or kill her quickly myself. I chose the later, but it was horrible and a real ‘loss of innocence’ for me.

    I guess what I’m saying is, even if you plan to let your chickens live out their natural lifespan, you must be prepared for the possibility of having to kill, if only to put a creature out of its misery.

    • Excellent and well put point.

    • This is so true. My husband usually takes care of any chicken killing, but once we had a very sick hen that I just couldn’t let suffer until he got home from work. I had to do it myself. It was very very hard and I cried. But it was still the right thing to do.

    • Richard Date says:

      So true! The old girls eat much less food, and would rather nibble in the yard than chow down the crumbles. And the old girls have so much personality and history. I tell myself that I could kill one if I was hungry enough, but so far no need.
      The reason we got chickens in the first place was to reclaim the fertility of our backyard and to stop supporting antibiotic cruel egg factories. The old hens still do a good job of fertilizing and entertaining.
      And there is no substitute for a good broody. We have bred some hybrid chicks that seem to have the best attributes of their parents. The father is half Rhode Island Red and half Barred Rock. The mother is Americaunus. The chick looks like a very large Americaunus but has red instead of gold coloring. Redneck, I call her. She is only 5 months old and bigger than her mom already. Nice eggs too.
      There is nothing wrong with humanely killing a chicken. But I prefer to keep the old girls around. They don’t cause any trouble.

  54. I haven’t read through every comment (and I do enjoy them as much as the posts) so forgive me if I “double up”. I am also quite blunt with the starry-eyed-chicken-want’ems. The reality is that sometimes chicken get sick, like a prolapsed vent and they need the kindest and quickest cull. Even with the best security and practices in place, some other animal may get in and maim your chooks, this is the time for a kind killing too. I find most people aren’t prepared to do this. We hate doing it but needs must but that is no reason others should assume we can do their dirty work for them. So glad you have done this post Erica.

  55. I mostly agree with Erica, but would take it a few steps further. We have raised chickens for 13 years on our little piece of land. Currently, we have about 50; half are one year old, and half are two. The 2yos will be going into the soup pot this fall; we actually should have done it already last fall, as the economics really don’t support keeping them. We have strictly production breeds–our hatchery calls them “browns” and “blacks”–and they lay heavily for 1 or two years. We’ve tried lots of other fancier breeds over the years–and if you want healthy eggs at the lowest cost–don’t bother with those! Three years with any breed is really STRETCHING it, in terms of laying efficiency. If one really keeps good records, this will be evident.

    Here’s the reality: it doesn’t save you much money to raise your own eggs, unless you are already buying the super expensive “cage-free” or “free range” eggs from the health food store, etc. As Erica mentioned, you are feeding your pullets for a good 5.5 to 6 months, no eggs. Feed is VERY costly, even buying the regular ol’ stuff directly from a feed mill. We partially free-range and have lots of scraps, but it still costs a lot. Then they come into production a bit slowly, and you get a couple months of lots of eggs. If you live in northern parts of the US, once winter sets in and daylight hours decrease, unless you add artificial lighting, the egg production drops significantly. So plan on not having very many (if any) eggs in the coldest parts of winter. Then they pick up again significantly in early spring-maybe late Feb-March, but at some point that summer or fall, depending on breed and age, they will moult, and you won’t be getting eggs then either for a good while. Add to that any birds that you fed for many months and end up eaten by a stray dog or predator, and you are looking at a pretty expensive venture. Honestly, the only way to even break even is to raise more chickens than you need and sell the extras. This almost pays for our own eggs. Maybe.

    If you think you will want to hire out the butchering of a medium sized flock, add a LOT more to the bottom line. Having chickens butchered is NOT cheap, especially when all you may be getting is an old stew hen. If you want the meat for good stock, then your best bet is to learn to do it or find experienced friends to do it with you. Otherwise, selling or giving them away on Craigslist is the way to go…someone will always want those, amazingly.

    We’ve gone about this venture over the years in an educated way–read lots and lots of books, thought outside the box, tried new methods and new breeds, kept good records, and it always boils down to this–it costs a good deal of money to raise your own chickens.

    So here’s what we do: buy only the production breeds (and there are still nice-looking, good good tempered good ones to choose from). Choose a different color each year to tell them apart. Only keep them for 1.5 to 2.5 years, then cull. If you don’t wait till the 3-4 yr+ mark, they still make good eating if you prepare them right. We put several carcasses in as many big pots as we can fit, slowly simmer for a minimum of twelve hours with herbs and onions, garlic, etc., and then pull all meat off the bones. This meat can then be frozen, and the stock pressure-canned (or frozen also.) Gorgeous stock. But we prefer to pressure can the meat as well. With a large breed, you can plan on about 1.5 birds per quart jar. This makes for wonderful quick winter casseroles and such. It’s work, don’t let me kid you. But no waste.

    Now, of course, if you just want pets….just plan on them being extremely expensive. Chickens eat a lot. They are messy and smelly. You have to continuously clean out their quarters; they don’t mind pooping anywhere they please, including their nest boxes. The compost is great, but you have to have a way to deal with it on a regular basis. They eat bugs, but not the ones you really want them to. :( Tick control is spotty at best. Running free, they like nothing better than to destroy your young plantings and scatter mulch everywhere….every day. Even ONE chicken can wreak havoc in a garden–and we have 1/2 acre gardens–and that one chicken that gets loose will always find her way to the tomatoes or strawberries, or juicy cukes, pecking holes in each one, scattering the mulch from around all of them, looking for bugs…

    Sorry so long-winded. But for the newbie who has these idealistic pictures in his mind, he needs to be aware of the significant drawbacks. That said, we still raise a zillion chickens each year cuz they’re worth it. :)

    • agreed! we got into chicken keeping knowing absolutely that we would be spending more than what we would if we just bought eggs, and we’re fine with that. we like knowing absolutely, without a doubt, how our hens are treated, how healthy they are, what their diet is and exactly how old our eggs are, so we’ve been willing to make the investment necessary. With the cost of building a coop, run, buying feeders/waterers/bedding, brooding boxes with heat lamps, number of roos we’ve inadvertantly raised (even after paying more for sexed chicks), and how long it’s taken for most of them to start laying (some as long as 10 mo because of failing to plan around the season), plus losses from predators and one that died suddenly of an egg blockage, and rats who’ve gotten in to our expensive feed, our eggs are worth their weight in gold :)

    • Thank you for adding this perspective!

  56. Thanks Erica, for doing your part to point this fact of livestock ownership out and open it up for discussion! I have had to kill two of my birds to date. I have had 12 chickens over the course of the last 4 years. My first rooster (not allowed within City of Portland) was honestly re-homed to the country with a contractor friend that has a farm and needed another rooster. The second rooster was slaughtered in our backyard and he became dinner one night, he was very tasty, despite being the first kill I have ever made and however emotional that act was for me. The last was one of my original girls (and she was very sweet and followed me around) that became lame to the point she needed to be put out of her misery as she could not eat or drink anymore on her own. I cannot say that killing my own chickens is easy, but it is necessary…and if you are going to own chickens or any livestock you need to be able to deal with it.

  57. semiurban says:

    Are there local butchers who will slaughter for you? Or can they not take random birds raised outside licensed facilities?

  58. Barbara says:

    I don’t put my cats to sleep when it’s time to say goodbye. I call a specialist, their vet. I don’t see what’s wrong w/ hiring a specialist to humanely dispatch of my birds so that it’s done quickly and safely. Even farmers often hire out mobile butchers so they don’t have to have high grade facilities (we had a neighbor that did just that in a huge farming community–he was well-employed). Humans have had specialist jobs as long as they’ve had communities…back to the land doesn’t mean you have to do it all by yourself. Yes, you should be aware of what you will do when your chickens get to non-laying years, but no harm in hiring out.

    • I think people are missing the point. Erica didn’t say you couldn’t hire someone to slaughter your animals. Of course many farmers do this because of the economy of scale. We hire someone to slaughter our goats because we don’t have the equipment to do so. Her main point was not to foist these animals onto someone else , specifically rescue organizations or saying “good homes only” because they are inconvenient for you now that they don’t lay. Either treat them as livestock or treat them as pets. There’s no gray area here.

      It is INCREDIBLY important to learn to slaughter even if you intend to keep them as pets because sometimes they get sick or injured to the point where you can’t save them and you need to end their suffering immediately. This is esp. important if you don’t live near a vet that sees chickens.

      • “This pisses me off, as you can probably tell. There is absolutely nothing ethically superior – and quite a bit that is ethically dubious, if you ask me – about enjoying the benefits of a young laying hen and then turning over the care or slaughter of that hen to someone else once it stops laying.”

        This is what we are responding to–being told it’s ethically inferior to turn the slaughter over to someone else. I know how to quickly kill my chickens if I have to to stop their suffering, don’t you worry. And my mobile slaughterer is making a good living. What’s the problem?

        I personally am sick of self righteous people telling me what to do w my animals. If I want to adopt them away and someone else wants to take them and everyone ends up happy, what business is it of anyone else? Doesn’t hurt you or the world any if a bird goes to a new home. I’m not loosing them into the woods or foisting them onto the humane society. It’s between me and the person who takes them in- mind your own business.

        • If you read the whole post and not just take stuff out of context and say “see! She doesn’t want people hiring slaughterers!” you would realize that she’s not demonizing people like you that hire out. Her problem is with people giving them to rescue organizations, animal shelters or requiring that the next owner not slaughter them but rather take on this livestock animal and only do with it what they deem fit but are unwilling to do themselves (keep it as a pet).

          I am self righteous about animal care. These are animals, not effing rocks. I feel the same way about people trying to give away their dogs or cats because they suddenly became inconvenient for them. Maybe if people were forced to put them down or keep them they’d think twice about getting them in the first place.

        • Emily: you are right, a more considered writing on my part would have been, “turning over the responsibility of care or slaughter over to someone else once it stops laying.”

          As it happens, my brother in law worked for a mobile abattoir for several years and so I am very familiar with how they work and how tremendously important they can be in the world of local meat production.

          A farmer who hires out physical slaughter of an animal to a butcher is still responsible for that slaughter. They are still “making the call” as it were. This post is intended as a wake up call to people who aren’t prepared to make that call and want to find some mythical somewhere else and someone else who will continue to provide for their hen or deal with the responsibility of the slaughter for them once the egg laying years are past. My hope is that this post helps prospective chicken keepers think about “chicken end of life planning” before they get birds.

          • This is why I don’t like the “recycling” program in Denver. They don’t call it what it is, and they essentially waste the meat. It’s a disconnection from the responsibility. I mean yes, the chicken keeper is making the call, and they know what is going to happen to the hen… but it’s sugar coated in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Like not recognizing plastic-wrapped meat from a case was once a living thing. Maybe I’m wrong though. I could just be getting caught up in semantics.

          • Here Anisa, this one’s for you:

  59. Wence Dusek says:

    Very well written. Thank you Erica.

  60. idahogundy D.V.M. says:

    I really love your blog posts, and this one was such a pleasure to read. Not because I like to see old hens being slaughter per se, but because I see such a disconnect in our society between the farm and the dinner table, and this post serves to remedy that. I applaud what you are doing. You’re helping hundreds, maybe thousands of people reconnect to where their food comes from, and whether you realize this or not, you may be helping them gain a greater appreciation for the hard working folks who produce food for a living at a relatively low cost to the rest of us. Keep it up!

  61. Tiffany says:

    My partner and I went into chicken hood with our eyes wide open. Did we want the eggs?, Yes. Did we want the bug control? Yes. Could we Cull these birds? Nope, never. We made them pets and we feed them Scratch and Peck. We fully understand that our view is of the minority in the world of “farm animals” ” If they aren’t productive, well you have said it already, We know that predators will takes them ( not yet thank god) and we know that we will be feeding them into there retirement home, and we know that most people think we are crazy! The girls still have value, without egg production. They will still help me till, they will still help add goodness to our compost, they will still help with insect control in and around the goat area, and they just make us smile. We get our meat from local sources and know that if it has a name, well them we can’t eat it. :) I’m weak, and i’m proud!

    • Thanks Tiffany, for saying what I’ve been thinking while reading all these foaming at the mouth posts about killing animals. What is so wrong about having pets that provide eggs for a couple years, then still socialize with you while you are gardening, till your raised beds and compost during the winter when they quit laying? Do you kill your dog when it quits fetching the tennis ball? If you want to raise LIVESTOCK, then do that, and sell/butcher/eat the animals to your hearts’ content. But for what are plenty good reasons to us pet owners, the eggs are great, but the years of neighbors coming by in the evening with their toddlers to see the chickens, and meeting new neighbors who chat over the fence while we’re outside cleaning the coop, these are rewards in keeping pet chickens. There’s a whole generation of youngsters in urban Portland who have chickens in their family’s day-to-day reality, along with dogs, cats, goats, rabbits, and ducks. They learn more than can be quantified here by this experience, because not everyone can live a rural farm life to learn about animals and growing food. Instead of vilifying people for breaking out of the sterile suburban stereotype, coming down off the mountain might make you more allies within your community.

      • Yay for you, Laura! Well said and I agree! Chickens are wonderful pets beyond their duty of egg-laying. We find them integral to trying to live a healthier lifestyle with gardening.

  62. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this! Too many people want the ‘fun’ part, then want to dump the ‘reality’ part on someone else…like their friendly neighborhood farmer or acreage owner. This goes for house pets, too (oh, c’mon, you’ve got lots of space for just one more cat…), and it drives me nuts. It’s great to have someone put it out there, point blank, like this!

  63. 9:13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which
    cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 9:14 Then
    said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.

  64. That last was me. This is God…

    three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is
    enough: 30:16 The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not
    filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.

    30:17 The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his
    mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young
    eagles shall eat it.

    30:18 There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four
    which I know not: 30:19 The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a
    serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and
    the way of a man with a maid.

    30:20 Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth
    her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.

  65. “Culled laying hens aren’t good for roasting or frying”

    Um……what the heck ever gave you that idea? Maybe if you are a terrible cook and don’t know how to work with meat. A domesticated laying hen’s meat is still far more benign than anything you shoot in the woods.

  66. The way I figured it, buying baby chicks in San Francisco was basically just an agreement that we were gonna buy land in NOT San Francisco in the next 4 years or so. Call it a farm-gettin’ insurance policy. After all, we’re gonna need more chicks soon, and our older ladies can still show them the ropes!

  67. Way to tell it, Erica. Bringing the farm to the town, one has to own it.

  68. It’s a hobby for me. Keeps my mind busy so I don’t go out and cull all the stupid people out there!

  69. First I must say that our chickens are pets. And they give us more eggs than we can give away. But our girls are also hard workers in our organic garden beds and till the soil like no machine can. The fresh compost is never ending, and it’s hard to put a price on never buying poor soil in a bag at the plant store again!

    Our solution to expensive organic feed (and it is) is growing lots of cover crops. This results in healthier chickens and tastier eggs. Crop seed is cheap, too.

    We’ve had chickens for a few years and I don’t worry about them getting old and not laying. Even if they cut back in production (an egg a day IS a lot to ask), they still have to battle the tough life of being a chicken- heat, hawks, diseases, dogs, raccoons- and these are in a well-protected coop/run. Two years ago, we had 24 chicks developing along. This march we were down to 9.

  70. NorCal Gardengurugal says:

    THANK YOU FOR THIS.

  71. Great post! I also get steamed at the “free to good home” plea. If you simply can’t stand the idea of killing it YOURSELF, but don’t mind the idea of someone else doing it, sell the live bird as a stewing hen for $10. Let an urban foodie have their way with her and be done with it. But begging for another person who shares your “no kill” values (implied in the “good home” phrase) to care for a pet that YOU want to discard…grrrr.

  72. Amen, sister.

    Live on a 50 acre farm, we raise numerous meat animals on pasture. Backyard chickens are one of my top pet peeves.

    In addition to the problem with the “no-kill” lunacy, without acreage to rotate the chickens on, they inevitably are living on a scratched dirt floor of their own feces. How is this better than confinement? It’s just different.

  73. Not to mention, without access to pasture or homegrown grains to mill, any “green” or “sustainable” benefit of keeping backyard poultry is quickly erased by the buying of feed in sacks. The amount of water, fuel and resources used to create that feed is likely never contemplated; if it were there wouldn’t be any false pretense of sustainability.

  74. Adrian Dent says:

    I agree, that if you are one dimensional in your chicken thinking (chickens supply eggs OR chickens are pets) then keeping chickens is probably not for you. We still have our first chicken, after 8 years, and she still lays almost as consistently as when we first got her. She is a jungle fowl, so her numbers have never been very high. The three intense years are for the commercial breeds. However, we don;t JUST keep chickens for the eggs. If we did that, maybe a battery cage would become acceptable to us. We grow broccoli and other brassicas, and the chickens have become quite adept at catching the cabbage moths. They also love the caterpillars that do get to hatch, but there are not so many of them. They also provide us with manure, so that we buy very little fertiliser for our veggie garden, and they turn over our veggie beds between crops, and add manure while removing bugs and weeds, including a good proportion of the weed seeds. If you look at ANY of the food producing items in our garden in one dimension, you may decide not to have them. The cherry tree produces cherries that are ripe over about two weeks, and does nothing for the rest of the year. And all those leaves to dispose of…what a mess. BUT! if we look at the other functions of a cherry tree, it provides shade, the pruning make good wood for smoking food with, the leaves (which I don’t really dispose of) are useful as mulch or compost: in fact, I put them in the chicken run, and the chickens turn them over, break them up, eat any bugs that might be among them, and make excellent humus. One dimensional thinking creates waste and pollution. Get multidimensional, and design so that outputs of one system (excess chickens) become useful inputs (cultivators and pest removers).

    • Thank you for illumination of the multidimensional approach! By outlining the prolonged benefits, coupled with the cherry tree comparison, your comment is both realistic and certainly more helpful than an opinionated rant! (hint, hint to author of site!) For further consideration, if someone truly wants to get rid of their chickens at the 3 – 4 year mark, cut can’t bear to slaughter their specific pets, likely a farmer in the area would be glad to slaughter for you for a nominal fee. When you receive your little group of birds back, packaged for freezing, you will not know which is which so it make it more palatable to those of us ‘faint of hearts’. Another option would be to trade off slaughter duty with a like-minded local. Be sure you’re in tune on feeding practices etc. Each cull your own stock and trade your culls for theirs. That way, you’re not slaughtering or eating your own pets, and neither are they. It’s a win / win!
      ]Anyway, Thanks, Adrian for an insightful and respectful comment! :)

  75. I love this post and the comments. It’s a good rule to follow…and it’s one of the reasons I will never be a farmgirl. :)

  76. My mother kept backyard hens for a couple of years, until she had to move and re-homed them. For her, they were pets as well as egg providers — When one hen wouldn’t stop sitting on her eggs, my mother bought chicks for her to take care of. It was really fun to raise the chicks and they were very low-maintenance, eating mostly leftovers and from the garden. I have a 2 year old son and I wish those chickens were still around for him to experience! I think they are worth the cost and effort if you think of them as pets. If you just want eggs, maybe find someone else to buy from.

  77. Just for the record… If anyone is unwilling to cull their birds but understands that culling is what must occur. I am happy to take them off your hands.

  78. This post is wonderful and informative! I couldn’t agree with you more! Thank you! As someone who one day wants to have land with animals ( chickens), I appreciate you bringing reality to a place where others do not. I would make the same decision as you. Do you plan on getting more chickens after than or being done with chickens?

  79. I personally am sick of self righteous people telling me what to do w my animals. If I want to adopt them away and someone else wants to take them and everyone ends up happy, what business is it of anyone else? Doesn’t hurt you or the world any if a bird goes to a new home. I’m not loosing them into the woods or foisting them onto the humane society. It’s between me and the person who takes them in- mind your own business.

  80. This article caught my eye and I’ve bookmarked your blog to keep up. I hadn’t even considered that this situation would create problems for people in the chicken world. In all edible animal circles, there seem to be the two polar opposite groups. Those that have livestock for pets and those that farm them for their product. I have friends who’s kids raise market animals for the fair and then bring them home instead of selling them…eyeroll. If that’s what floats their boat, I’ll just look the other way.
    Don’t get me wrong. I adore every single animal on my property. I enjoy working the sheep and watching the flock dynamic (wish I had a dog to work the sheep with me but…) I name them, we show them at fairs and take them to petting zoos. But when they reach that magic age or weight, I eat them. I still love them…with roasted garlic, mint sauce, whatever.
    We raise dairy goats for their milk. My daughter has started a business making soap and lotion from all of that beautiful milk these girls give us every day from January to November. We sell the young castrated males to petting zoos and people who want to eat them. I would eat them but I prefer lamb so I let others eat the goats. I’ve tried it…if I didn’t have sheep I would eat them.
    We raise and show registered Southdown sheep. We name them, ear tag them, show them, breed the best & eat the rest. This breed of sheep makes a tender, well-marbled piece of meat that cuts with a fork like prime-rib. Can you tell I am a huge fan of lamb? I also pelt the lambs when they are butchered to make beautiful rugs. So keep loving them even longer that way.
    My chickens make me happy. I order some every few years or I let a hen go broody here and there. I eat the roosters as early as I can tell they are male. Those are my fryers. I don’t roast my own layers, I have been known to order a batch of cornish-rock crosses for my rotisserie…
    My retired layers go into the crock pot or the stock pot. Coq-au-vin is a gourmet dish designed to use an older hen. There isn’t a chicken too old for an enchilada.
    So, believe me when I tell you…I really love my animals.
    It’s O.K. for you to keep them as pets and feed them into eternity. I would never castigate someone who felt this way. Why then, do I get put down, argued with, scolded, bashed, etc. for simply enjoying the blessing that each and every animal on my small farm gives me? If God didn’t want me to eat them…He wouldn’t have made them out of meat.
    To each their own…live and let live. The world is a big place…plenty of room for all points of view!

  81. charlie says:

    Isn’t there a cheaper alternative than layers mash for the older chicken?

    • Yes, but if you have a smallish urban flock on limited land (my target audience for this post) it’s probably not realistic to keep separate feed streams going. The quickest way to reduce your feed cost for any chicken is to set up as much free ranging time as possible.

  82. Jessica says:

    I have a flock of 10 (maybe a few more soon as I have two broody sitting on eggs). They are all still laying but I went into this with the idea that I would cull them and replace them when they stopped laying. With that said I grew up in a city and I live in the suburbs. I have no idea how to process a chicken. I’ve done some research online and bought a few chicken raising books but I am terribly frightened of doing something wrong when the time comes to “do the deed.” I have never seen or been taught how to kill and clean a chicken. I wish there was a class for that or something. What’s a girl to do?

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_S3P0eU0lE
      This is a great video I found extremely helpful.

    • Just google it. I’ve seen a few very helpful tutorials with pics. It definitely takes practice though! DH built a chicken plucker (google whizbang chicken plucker for instructions) and it whips the feathers off in a mere 20 seconds. Used to take me half an hour to pluck a chicken and it’s horrid work if you ask me. Now we’re going to get meat birds this year.

      DH also built a sort of sink/countertop on wheels to help with the slaughter. He bought a 6 ft piece of formica countertop and we found a small sink at the fleamarket for $5. He inset the sink, put a 5 gallon bucket underneath, hung a hose above. And for scalding we use a large enamaled canner and a campstove. Thankfully Ziploc makes 2 gallon size bags for freezing the birds.

      For killing he has one of those orange traffic cones, hung upside down, bird goes in head first, pull down on the head to make the neck taut, sharp knife, fffffttt the jugular, but just the jugular. Don’t cut the windpipe…. it’s unnecessary. Let them bleed out, scald, pluck, chop off head & feet, eviscerate, keeping the gizzard, heart, liver.

      I think the hardest part is getting the windpipe out of the neck. Oh, and chopping the head off is difficult. You need some stout knives, and a very sharp knife for the jugular. If the knife is sharp enough I bet they hardly even feel it. Very humane way to go.

    • april young says:

      maybe if you could find someone around you that knows how to do it, then offer to help with the cleaning. thats what i did. and even got a free bird outta it. put an add on craigslist or something….heck even post it on fb.

  83. Valerie says:

    A friend posted your thoughtfully expressed view of living with chickens on her FaceBook page.

    In India, cows that no longer “give” milk are released into the urban environment where they eat scraps given by citizens and shopkeepers. They are respected, though recently evicted from New Delhi, for the Commonwealth Games a few years ago, they are returning to the big city. I doubt that “free-range”, I mean feral, chickens would fair this well if released into the community.

    • The issue of urban stray cows in India is (from my US perspective) fascinating. It’s a complex thing, for sure. One NY Times article I read compared the cows in Delhi to pigeons in major US and European cities – often annoying but just a part of the urban landscape.

  84. Dixie Stine says:

    If I didn’t have the money to continue feeding the older hens, I wouldn’t get them in the first place. I want them for more than just the eggs they produce. There is something wholesome and good about watching the chickens scratching in the grass and dirt. I love that image. They are poetry alive for me. I would never trade that for a pot of soup.

  85. Thank you for your post. We have chickens and love and respect them. I wasn’t sure I could kill an animal I’d raised (or any animal) when we started, and assumed they would live out their lives, until we got a mean mean rooster. When we finally decided to kill him it brought me closer to my food than I have ever been. Life dies every time we eat. It is good to know that.

  86. Rob McMillin says:

    There is a local urban farming message board that is filled – filled – with people trying to give away their three year old chicken to a “good home.” Are you kidding me? You own the chicken. Your home is a good home. And once it’s not, your soup pot is a good soup pot. I once joked to a good friend that I could stock my freezer for the entire year off no-longer-laying hens being given away free “to a good home.”

    My friend Janeen calls this “freezer camp”.

  87. OMG! Great coaching!

  88. Jeanette says:

    That cost for when they do not lay is not accurate. Chicken don’t just eat layer and corn, they will eat worms and other bugs. Yes, this is urban, just dig up the dirt for them and give them some worms and such. Also chickens don’t really stop laying eggs. They just start to lay less, say in the winter months when there is less sunlight. Chickens need natural light to produce eggs. So provide that and the cost is brought down even more.
    As for killing them, it’s the natural cycle of life for a hen not to produce eggs forever. But not one set am owner has to kill their own chickens. You can sell them, someone else can butcher them for you, you can then sell the meat to a locker. Or let the hen live out their old age. Which the latter is the least practical and rather sad to see, as the other hens will pick on her.

    So provide plenty of natural sunlight throughout the year, feed the hens bugs and worms as a supplementary diet, send an old hen off the a butcher ( packing house, locker etc)

  89. Actually this could also be applied for dogs once they’re out of the soft cute puppy state, there is a lot of abandoned 4 year old dogs out there… your adoption, your responsability, so… if you are not willing to take care for this pet of yours for THEIR ENTIRE LIFE, then you are not allowed to have dogs, cats, birds, etc.

  90. This should be required reading for all those folks ‘pinning’ cute little chicken coops and dreaming of ‘living off the land’ one day. I came from a farm. We ate our pets, yes including the pig that followed Mama all around the yard and the ducks and everybody, all delicious. I could still ‘dress’ a chicken if need be.

  91. This is a perfect post. Fantastic.

  92. p.s. If you want to see heads spin, try rabbits. They are much cuter than chickens.

    • april young says:

      yeah someone was selling baby rabbits at a festival here in Louisiana and I bought. my son asked me why and i told him we had to have something to eat for christmas dinner.

  93. Kris Yuret says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I’m a former rural Oregon girl now living in NE Seattle and, having raised chickens in my youth, I am quite conflicted about the reality that chicken coops seem to be the latest landscaping fashion accessory for middle-class, urban, home-owning families. I strongly believe that people should have an appreciation for animal husbandry and children should know where their food comes from. Unfortunately, a lot of folks are setting up coops in their back yards with these intentions, but are oblivious about the physical, emotional and temporal responsibilities that they are signing up for.

  94. Melissa says:

    Great article! This was super timely for my sister, mother and I as we were just talking about backyard chickens last night, and what to do with them after they stop laying eggs. I have no problem consuming the chickens that were previously “pets” in the backyard but I know I could not take care of culling, cleaning, butchering…. Is there anywhere in Seattle or nearby where you can take your chickens to and they do that part for you, returning only clean, ready to cook meat? Sorry if this was asked again, I didn’t have time to read through all the responses. Thanks!
    Melissa

  95. I agree with many of the posters that there is another option. The problem people have of getting rid of aging hens on Craigslist is that they add the stipulation that the hens won’t be used for food. Well, that’s ridiculous. Selling them or giving them away to people who want to use them for food is very easy here in the SF Bay Area.

    I had to cull a sick chicken within the first couple of months I had pullets. It wasn’t pleasant and I didn’t enjoy it, but I got the job done. I helped that I had been to our meat CSA farm and helped harvest Thanksgiving turkeys. We practiced on old laying hens.

    Backyard chickens fall into some gray area between farm animal and pet. That makes people very uncomfortable with idea of dispatching unproductive hens. On a farm when you have a large flock it’s easier to not form attachments. With only a few in your yard it’s different.

    I agree that people need to think about this issue before getting hens, but if you’re willing to let someone eat your aging hens you’ll be able to replace your flock fairly easily. There is a local 4H young man here that takes all the aging hens he can, promises to kill them humanely and processes them for food.

  96. I’m not sure I agree with the basic premise – that chickens become useless after 3 years. If you have a flock of, say, 6 hens, “inconsistent” egg laying can still mean an egg or two a day, which will be enough for many urbanites. Obviously, go into chicken keeping with your eyes wide open. But don’t go too far in the other direction, thinking it less rewarding than it really is. And keep in mind that buying eggs from the store pushes off responsibility not only for the death of the roosters and old hens, but for the quality of life of the layers. No easy answers….

  97. Amazing. I was just thinking about this very issue. We recently set up a backyard coop. We live on 2 acres in a very small farming/ranching town in Central Texas. We knew we would lose chickens occasionally. The first loss was a chick that ran under my foot from behind me, apparently trying to get to the other chicks as I was moving around the coop. It was my granddaughter’s favorite one. I replaced it with one that looked almost identical. Fast forward several weeks. The chicks are getting pretty big but the bantams were not big enough. One apparently got out of the nighttime coop and while it was on the ground, a snake got it. Too bad for the snake. Now it was too big to get back out through the chicken wire and I dispatched it with a hoe. It got me to thinking about my relationship with animals over the years. Gotta love the dogs and the cat we have but as far as I’m concerned, they had better be doing something to earn their keep. The cat is catching baby rabbits and possums. My old dog alerts us to scorpions. The newer dog is very tolerant of my granddaughter’s affections and is a very good watchdog with a mean sounding bark. Also eats crickets and other crawly things. We had two rescue donkeys that the previous owner left. They kept the coyotes away but no more than a good fence will and they were going to cost us more than a good fence eventually. Besides, we have no experience with donkeys so we found a new home for them with the help of a rescue organization. It doesn’t do to get too attached to animals. You gotta treat them right but sometimes you have to make hard choices too.

  98. A Facebook post from N.A.I.A. led me here. I thought it odd they would post a link to an article telling people NOT to get an animal, but when I got here, found it to be a great read! Thanks for the information! I have 6 acres in the country and would like to get a few chickens someday, mainly for eggs and perhaps for pest control, if they’ll eat ants or ticks. Not sure if I will develop the guts to cull, but they *will* have a place to live out their lives if I don’t.

  99. Hell yeah! Preach it sister! We are about as close to “real” farmers as you can get in the heart of a major city, and I am constantly harassed by people who dont understand how I can possibly kill an animal, especially one I have raised. They think I’m “weird” or “crazy”? We have even had rabbits stolen and found out later that people were trying to “save” them, even though their dog ate them 24 hours later. Oh yeah, and almost ALL of these people eat meat on a regular basis. SCREW THAT. They are the ones who are completely out of touch with the “real” world and have no concept of where food actually comes from or that we are a part of a real, actual, finite ecosystem that we are wholly dependent on for our survival. Cities and civilization are the illusions. It doesn’t matter how much you cover with concrete, you still need nature or you die. I will not apologize for having the stones to harvest my own meat. And you know what else…I ENJOY IT! I know im not supposed to say that, but I shouldn’t have to apologize for that either. That doesn’t make me some insensitive monster or future serial killer-to-be, it makes me a realistic, self-reliant individual who takes pride in the entire process of growing and harvesting his own food. This isn’t a Disney movie…I like to breed, raise, pet, love, kill, and eat my own meat and vegetables.

  100. Cathy Smith says:

    Meh. I have chickens, I cull, but I don’t slaughter. Why? Cuz it’s a messy pain in the butt. I don’t agree with the basic premise of this article, which seems to be if you can’t kill it, don’t raise it. My chickens are all too happy to go another family that eats them. They come with a box, they leave happy, I’m happy. The chickens aren’t going to care who is eating them.

    • best comment here yet… I totally agree. I am fascinated by this thread as everyone seems to have some strong opinion but it all really boils down to what you wrote… were talking “eithics” here so…
      “The chickens aren’t going to care who is eating them.”
      yep.
      In fact I think this article is silly because what better way to learn about the cycle of life and animal husbandry then to actually partake in the process… who cares if people end up with an old chicken they don’t want… having moral problems to solve is part of the human experience. I think based on what everyone has said here, if people are ignorant of “reality/nature/whatever” what better way to become acquainted? a petting zoo?
      i don’t think so. and there are always people willing to eat your animal if you don’t want to. so don’t worry about it… raise your chicken and love it… if your done with it someone will eat it for you. no sweat. chill out ppl. even if you put in the earth for a proper burial, then mother natures creatures will eat it for you :-)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] We are fans of Northwest Edible Life’s Erica Strauss. Perhaps you remember her rant about healthy eating. It is the best ever. And now she has something to tell you about backyard chickens: You absolutely should not get them. [...]

  2. [...] Meg Jay: Why 30 is not the new 20   Banana Cream Pie   You Absolutely Should Not Get Backyard Chickens [...]

  3. [...] Yet again, my hopes are dashed.  According to this blog post, I should absolutely not get backyard chickens. [...]

  4. [...] Before you make the investment in your own backyard chickens, you might want to read what one person has summarized about the actual cost and responsibility of caring for chickens over the duration of their lifetimes.  It might make you think twice about getting back yard chickens! [...]

  5. [...] You Absolutely Should not Get Backyard Chickens—This is the exact sentiment that has prevented me from getting backyard chickens even though it has been legal in my town for a couple of years and I have the perfect place for a chicken coop.  Sorry, I know that I would get too attached to the birds and would not be able to end their lives at an economic time.  Then again, if a hen were to provide years of eggs for little more than feed and water could I not offer that bird a comfortable retirement in return? [...]

  6. [...] No I’m not talking about chickens and eggs. Because, I too, believe you absolutely should not get backyard chickens. [...]

  7. [...] Tough love and backyard chickens.  If you or someone you know is hankering for some backyard eggs, this is a must-read. [...]

  8. [...] fact, in a post on the blog Northwest Edible Life, Erica tells the tale of a friend who says she wants chickens but so far has not taken any steps toward acquiring them. Which Erica says is a good [...]

  9. [...] mature understanding of the responsibilities associated with raising them. I’d recommend this article for more information on the [...]

  10. [...] You Absolutely Should Not Get Backyard Chickens | Erica Strauss / Northwest Edible Life nwedible.com/2013/05/you-ab… [...]

  11. [...] closing, I thought I’d link you to a post on the reasons why some people should rethink getting chickens. While I’m a big advocate of pretty much any type of critter-keeping, fact of the matter is, [...]

  12. [...] amusingly blunt read on the dark side of backyard chicken ownership. (The NW author begs you to [...]

  13. [...] NW Edible: You Absolutely Should Not Get Backyard Chickens. [...]

  14. [...] also realize that hens often require far more work than cats and dogs, and can be quite expensive, too. Sick chickens need veterinary care just like pets do, but specialized treatment can be costly [...]

  15. [...] agree with Erica of Northwest Edible Life that it makes no sense to have backyard chickens and no eggs. I caved less weekend and bought a [...]

  16. [...] In THIS blog post about whether to raise chickens or not, the author points out that most hens stop laying [...]

  17. [...] don’t have chickens yet, why not?!  Well, actually there are some people who just should not keep chickens.  And then there’s the fear of them being the Gateway Livestock…  Actually [...]

  18. […] processing. I didn’t think that I could take part or be witness to his death. But then I read an article by Erica at Northwest Edible Life (an amazing blog, BTW) that changed my tune. This is the meat of her […]

  19. […] pretty much love this post from Erica over at Northwest Edible Life. It’s a good summation of how I feel about owning small livestock and I think she fairly hit […]

  20. […] you do not cull your flock. Erica Strauss on her blog Northwest Edible Life tells it like it is in her rant about why you should not get chickens. If you are considering getting chickens or already have them and are wrestling with the decision […]

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