Friday, April 15, 2011

Albany Backyard Chickens Revisited

It seems the Albany Common Council's law, buildings, and code committee took up the question of the proposed lift on the backyard-chickens ban.  The proposal was passed out of committee without recommendation and will be taken up by the full Council, probably sometime in May.  As an aside, I think it's unfortunate that I keep seeing cutesy, flippant descriptions of this issue:  "pecking at the Albany backyard chicken issue"; "spirited clucking back and forth on the issue"; Metroland's tweet last night of "cluck or no cluck" and "I vote cluck."

Anyway, I will reproduce here an e-mail message that I sent to my Council representative back when I first became aware of the issue and leading up to the meeting that was held this past December, and which he was kind enough to forward to his fellow Council members:
I am a resident of the Ward 12, District 11.  It has come to my attention that on 12/6, the Common Council will hear from people who are trying to change the city laws in order to lift a ban on keeping backyard chickens.  The people who support lifting the ban cite "sustainability" and "teaching children where their food comes from" as motives for keeping chickens, while the only misgivings I've seen mentioned had to do with the nuisance of living near chickens--noise, smell--and a small mention of public-health concerns.  What has been glaringly missing is any concern for the chickens.

Almost all of the chickens that end up in backyard flocks come from hatcheries.  Hatcheries are unregulated and operate much like puppy mills.  The breeding hens are kept in cramped, dark quarters where they are denied sunlight, air, and space to move around.  Roughly 50% of their hatchlings are male chicks, and since these male chicks are unwanted, they are killed at birth--often ground alive.  Additionally, sexing of the chicks is imperfect, and something like 20-50% of the chicks sent out actually turn out to be male.  People often abandon them or drop them off at shelters that are ill-equipped to care for them.

The chicks are actually packed in boxes and sent through the mail.  These newborns are denied food, water, and light for 24-72 hours during this process, and they don't always survive the trip.

People jumping on the "raise my own chickens" bandwagon tend to view these animals as little vending machines giving them free or near-free eggs.  They are unaware of the cost of feeding chickens properly or paying for their veterinary care.  Veterinarians who treat chickens typically charge $100 for one visit.  Chickens develop serious health problems, including osteoporosis and ovarian cancer, thanks to their being bred to produce many more eggs than any wild bird ever would.  Farm sanctuaries that rescue unwanted/abandoned chickens actually hard-boil, crush, and feed the eggs back to the chickens in order to restore their depleted nutrients.  This is actually not far removed from their natural behavior, as wild chickens will eat broken eggs so they don’t attract predators. Chickens will also naturally eat their own eggs if they are calcium deficient.

In addition, chickens do not lay eggs forever.  It is quite normal for their egg production to drop off or even stop when they are at or around 18 months old.  I doubt most backyard-chicken proponents would want to continue to keep and care for their chickens once egg production had stopped.  So they are likely to abandon the birds, unload them at a shelter or, worse yet, go from backyard coop to backyard slaughter.  (I hope that at the very least our city will not allow backyard slaughter.  Imagine young children in our neighborhood having to witness someone hacking off a bird's head next door!)

Another factor to consider is the cost of regulating backyard chickens.  Municipalities are already over-burdened enforcing animal-cruelty laws when it comes to dogs, cats, and other common companion animals, as well as fielding dangerous-dog calls from the public.  Having to enforce licensing laws for the keeping of chickens and addressing related complaints when we face budget crises at every level of government would represent a highly questionable added expense.

If you're still with me, thanks for reading all this!  I cannot attend the 12/6 meeting and I hope that as my Common Council member you will take my concerns into account and perhaps share them at the meeting.
I don't know, what, if any effect I can have on this process, but I am hoping to at least get a different perspective out there.

Edit:   I suspect most of the people weighing in on this issue have given little if any thought to the hatcheries that provide most of the backyard chickens.  Please view the video below to see how hatcheries "process" the chicks that they send out.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Talk about not seeing the forest through the trees! If I can;t have my backyard hens, I'll just go back to buying the factory farm eggs from price chopper.

You win!

Matthew said...

I appreciate your concern for chickens, and I respect your personal decision to be a vegan. However, I feel your position against backyard chickens in Albany is somewhat flawed.

First, your blanket statement that "most chicks come from hatcheries" does not substitute for the implied assertion that "all of these chicks will come from hatcheries." There are local sources for chicks that treat the animals more humanely than the horrible conditions you describe. It is possible that some folks will get their chicks from the hatcheries, but as their chicken-loving friends educate them about the local sources, I'm sure they will be used less and less.

Second, your strong personal commitment to veganism, which we all respect, does not mean you are the only one looking out for the well-being of animals. Proponents of backyard chickens and other local-meat movements are just as interested in the treatment of animals. We are on the same team. I know a lot of vegetarians/vegans who began to question whether they ought to eat meat after learning about industrial slaughterhouses. We are also disgusted by industrial slaughterhouses - the only difference is that we hope to bring that food production back home, where the animals can spend their lives in clean, healthy environments.

In short, we ARE thinking about the animals. The animals that, like it or not, are going to be sources of food for humans. We are trying to shut down the industrial slaughterhouses too. This entire movement is predicated on connecting to our food sources and treating them with as much dignity as possible.

Vegans like yourself have made a personal decision, one that is similar to a belief (or not) in a god. I have absolutely no problems with your decision, and I try my best to understand it. I do not try to convince vegans or vegetarians that they are wrong for not eating meat or animal products. Please reciprocate.

Matthew Gehrett