Once factory raised chickens stop producing eggs, they are normally killed and sold for their meat
I was recently watching a re-run of a CBC documentary on backyard chickens to learn more about this growing urban phenomenon. As many of you already know, Vancouver is about to become the largest city in Canada to approve the raising of fowl in your backyard.
The CBC raised a number of good issues pertaining to the growing of chickens in one's backyard as a means of producing fresh eggs for the breakfast plate. They reported that chickens only lay eggs for several years of their life, then they basically become pets that consume food and produce waste.
In contrast, non-laying factory raised chickens are quickly slaughtered and their meat used for various purposes. Poultry farmers wouldn't dream of wasting food, energy or money keeping non-laying chickens alive once they no longer produce eggs. Their job is to produce eggs. No more eggs, no more chicken. It's as simple as that.
In residential back yards, their fate is less certain. After years of producing fresh eggs, will their owners continue to pay for the feed as well as care and nurture them after they stopped laying eggs? If that's the case, what is the carbon footprint of keeping these "pet" chickens alive for the years after they have stopped laying eggs?
Is it too far fetched to assume that like many other unwanted pets they will begin showing up on the doorsteps of the SPCA? Or worse, will we begin finding them living along the riverside and/or in our regional parks? There has been little to no discussion regarding how these "pets" will be handled once they are past their egg laying years.
Unlike cats or dogs, most North Americans do not see chickens as pets. In fact, the whole push to allow backyard chickens has nothing to do with them being pets and everything to do with supposedly saving our environment. People who grow their own food don't need to drive to the supermarket as much. Hence, fewer carbon emissions.
In theory, if a chicken lives to the ripe old age of 6-7 years, but only produces eggs for 3-4 years, each family will need to continue purchasing more chickens as the younger ones get older. It is not unlikely that after a few years, you will likely have about 6-7 chickens roaming through your back yard in order to keep enough eggs going to sustain the family. That is of course if you don't slaughter your chickens after they get past their prime.
Did I mention that it is almost always illegal to dispose of dead carcasses in your residential garbage can. So where will the dead carcasses of these chickens eventually end up?
These are all good questions that need answers before Vancouver goes head long into endorsing a plan to allow chickens in everyone's backyards. But it's not only Vancouver that plans on moving ahead with the hen plan. Now the City of Calgary is also considering lifting the ban on having chickens in residential neighbourhoods. Needless to say, it is also stirring up a lot of controversy there as well.
The lobbying efforts by environmentalists to encourage us to grow our own food closer to home is laudable. The efforts to allow backyard chickens may also prove to have some merit. However, the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Before this goes too far, we'd best be prepared to ask ourselves what we're going to to with all this poultry when it ages.