What Chickens Need – The Ethics of Chicken-Keeping (Part I)

| 10/10/2011 10:41:44 AM

Tags: chickens, what chickens need, Victoria Gazeley,
Chicken Cameo 

A photo of Victoria GazeleyUntil we got our chickens, I have to say that I really didn’t ‘get it’.

Sure, I stopped buying factory farmed eggs back in the early 1990s, switched to raw dairy a few years ago, and have basically embraced a much more holistic lifestyle.  But when it came time to add chickens (our first ‘livestock’) to our little modern homestead, I just assumed what they told you to do in the books would work.

The verdict?  We’ve been at this for almost 5 months – just a blink in farmer years, but even in that short amount of time, we’ve learned that while the standard operating procedure of a coop and run, and even a chicken tractor, does work, there are better options, especially from the chickens’ perspective. 

Why Should We Care?

Let me start by saying that this article by Paul Wheaton pretty much rocked my newbie farmer world.  If you’re planning on getting chickens, or know anyone who is, this should be required reading.  It’s controversial, and it has rubbed some traditional chicken-raisers the wrong way, but the man has a point (and a way with words – it’s a good read). 

Basically, without anthropomorphizing too much, it turns out that there is such a thing as a ‘happy’ chicken.

Like many other animals we keep for our own use, chickens still carry a good chunk of their forest-dwelling instincts.   Uncle Larry may make snide remarks about how stupid chickens are, but let’s be honest:  Uncle Larry would look pretty dumb trying to survive in the jungle with his TV remote.  Chickens are only as capable as the environs we stick them in (same goes for Uncle Larry).  When allowed to roam around in dense undergrowth, these birds are actually pretty wily – ours have escaped a couple of coyote ambushes I believe because they’ve been outside with wildlife and, well, just ‘know’.  They don’t just stand there and fall over from fright…

4/12/2015 11:22:30 PM

Thanks. I love the chicken tractor idea and I plan in employing it myself.

joyce brazee
5/16/2012 7:56:12 PM

I love my chickens but I'm a little confused. THey are 9 weeks and I have been letting them free range in the yard, but now they won't eat their feed. Is this ok or should I stop the free ranging until they eat their feed?

victoria gazeley
1/28/2012 8:23:55 PM

I agree with your assessment of pigs being super smart. I don't have any firsthand experience, of course, but they just seem that way for some reason. Glad to hear others agree with my philosophy on chicken raising - I think sometimes we take these things on without totally thinking them through, and then the animals end up suffering. Never a good thing...

nebraska dave
10/12/2011 7:45:45 PM

Victoria, I do indeed think you are on the right track for raising chickens. Chickens do have some dumb tendencies but then again I have done some dumb things in my life as well. So does that make them just a dumb bird. I think not. In my experience on the farm probably the dumbest animal was the horse and in my humble opinion the smartest animal was the pig. Now if you are talking loyalty and friendly then horses or farm dogs would win hands down. I believe that you are correct in thinking that chickens act and do dumb things from the unnatural stress that modern chicken raising methods have pressed them into. Farm animals of any kind is not an undertaking that should be taken lightly. They require much time and energy to keep them healthy and happy. I wish I lived closer so I could enjoy some of those happy eggs. Have a great happy chicken day.

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