Hipster Farmers Abandoning Backyard Chickens by the Hundreds

The idea of raising backyard chickens sounded pretty nifty to a lot of people, once upon a time. They could have fresh eggs and feel good about not contributing to the horrifying life of battery caged hens.

It was actually kind of fun, having a teeny tiny farm in the back yard. For a while. Then, for a lot of people, reality set in. Backyard chickens need care and they’re only egg layers for a while, not forever. Oops.

“People don’t know what they’re doing,” Mary Britton Clouse, owner of Minneapolis rescue organization Chicken Run Rescue told NBC News. “And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”

According to Clouse, Chicken Run Rescue took in about 50 abandoned chickens in 2001. They got almost 500 in 2012.

Of course, not everyone with backyard chickens abandons them. We’re talking here about a certain subset of people who really didn’t think this idea through very well. Some critics point to “urban hipsters” who were caught up in the locavore movement and then (oh, snap!) found chicken raising to be actual, hard work.

Keeping backyard chickens is no walk in the park:

Costs: Startup costs for a good coop, security, maintenance, cleaning supplies, insulation, cooling systems and so on can climb to $4,000. Annual costs for things like permits, nutritional supplements, bedding, food, utilities and more are about $280 per bird. Hens also need veterinary care that can cost $300 per bird per year.

Maintenance: Chicken coops need to be kept clean and livable. Chicken poop must be removed. The litter must be replaced. Watering equipment has to be cleansed regularly. Feed bins must be refilled. Every so often, just about everything in the coop needs to be disassembled and sanitized.

How many people who are motivated to “save money” by raising chickens for the eggs are likely to want to spend this time and money caring for their birds?

In addition to all this work, there are two specific problems causing the chicken dumping phenomenon – one involving roosters, the other involving hens.

The Rooster Problem

In a growing number of neighborhoods, it’s legal to keep egg-laying hens, but roosters are prohibited. They’re just too darn loud. That cock-a-doodle-dooing is just too much for neighbors to take.

Unfortunately, when people order chicks over the Internet (yes, that’s a thing now), they often get both boys and girls because it can be hard to tell which is which at that age. Sometimes, according to Chicken Run Rescue’s web site, male chicks are intentionally included in these shipments as “live packing material” that the buyer can dispose of in any way he or she chooses.

When the boys grow old enough to crow, often they’re sent packing to the nearest shelter or they become Sunday dinner. No one knows what else to do with them.

“We probably get 400 or 500 roosters each year at just one of our sanctuaries,” Farm Sanctuary‘s National Shelter Director, Susie Coston, told NBC News.

The Hen Problem

Would-be urban farmers don’t always understand that chickens don’t lay eggs through their entire life span. For the most part, a hen’s egg laying period peaks at around 18 months of age. They lay eggs for about two years.

Compare that to the normal healthy chicken life span of between 12 and 14 years. How many frugal money saving backyard farmers want chickens as pets for eight or nine years after the eggs have stopped coming? Not so many, apparently.

“They’re put on Craigslist all the time when they don’t lay any more,” according to Coston. “They’re dumped all the time.”

Rescue an Abandoned Chicken

What happens to all these unwanted chickens? For the right type of person, they can can be adopted and will turn into wonderful companions.

“Oh, my god, they’re amazing,” said Coston. She says chickens are smart and funny, with their own personalities. “We have some of the sweetest ones here [at Farm Sanctuary]. They just sit beside you and they let you pet them. And they’re big and dumpy.”

Who wouldn’t want a smart, funny, big, dumpy friend?

Related Stories:

5 Things to Know About Backyard Chickens

Ground Up Alive: Baby Chicks Suffer

Horrific Conditions for Factory Farmed Chickens Exposed

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Lucy Fox
Lucy Fox3 years ago

Could we abandon the hipsters who adondon chickens?

Lori A.
Lori A3 years ago

Hens are still useful after their egg-laying years are over. The eat bugs that can be pests to gardeners.

Virginia Abreu de Paula

OH,,,,I love the rooster's singing early in the morning. I do love it so much. My neighbour had some hens and a rooster. Such a great feeling to wake up to the sound of cock-a-doodle-doo...Although here in Brazil they say Co co ri co co..l.:) Beautiful...and then we can sleep agian. However an American girl used to live here and she complained. My mother without knowing how cruel the owner could be, told him our guest was not happy with the rooster waking her up. He killed the rooster. I cried for a time. I still feel like crying.

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

On the old family farms, it was EXPECTED that when the hens stopped laying, they would become maybe a special dinner for a special occasion. That was SURVIVAL.
The thing is, the "hipsters" don't realize that on the farms, SOMEbody had to wring the chicken's neck, or chop it off with a hatchet. I don't know if that's even LEGAL in towns, now.
But the Farm Wife, usually, a very REALISTIC woman, would wring or chop, and show her KIDS how it was done, so THEY wouldn't be squeamish, either!
You know the expression, "To run around like a chicken with its head cut off"? well, that isn't just an EXPRESSION... Blood would spatter all over. It was just a part of Farm Life.
They would have maybe one or two hens at a time, then get another... start the cycle again.
When we start raising our food for SUBSISTENCE, for SURVIVAL, to avoid STARVATION - we will have to learn to Kill, and teach our children how to Kill... or die ourselves. That's all there is to it.

Mike Kowalchuk
Mike Kowalchuk3 years ago

At one time there was talk that they were going to push the idea of having private coops in your yard in Vancouver,this was a long time ago,it never did get the go a head, its a good thing that it didn't, people think that there is nothing involved with this practise, little do they know....

Paul Burton
Paul Burton3 years ago

how cruel

Geri Mellgren-Kerwin

Abandonment of any feeling being is cruel. Hipsters shouldn't be abandoned, K, they should be sent to a sanctuary.

Matt S.
Matt S.3 years ago

The $4000 figure for startup is outrageously inflated. A great coop can be built with scrap wood or donated materials. Feed costs are minimal to non-existant because chickens eat any kind of grain or vegetable scraps from the table. If birds are allowed to roam some, the fencing to keep out foxes, coyotes, etc. is the biggest expense, but a couple good dogs will often suffice for rounding them up and protecting them. And fences can be built with scraps, too. Coop them up at night and don't let them out when nobody is home and you don't need a fence. Vet costs are inflated, too. When they stop laying, you eat them at about 15 cents per pound when done right—with no hormones, antibiotics, etc.