The backyard chicken movement is gaining a lot of momentum, but those home-grown hens may not be as humane as you think.
When you compare your backyard hens to the horrific images we see of factory farming operations, you probably can’t imagine anything more humane than buying a few baby chicks to raise for eggs. Your chickens eat healthy feed and food scraps, they run freely around your backyard, you hug them and consider them part of the family. Keeping chickens feels very warm and fuzzy.
The main trouble with backyard chickens is really the same problem that the egg industry has in general: male chickens don’t lay. That means that when you get your chirping box of sweet baby chicks, most – if not all – of the males from that brood were slaughtered because they’re useless as far as egg-laying goes. About 50 percent of the chicks that hatch are male, so for every female chick running around in your backyard a male was killed, often not in the most humane way (if you believe that you can kill anything humanely).
Keeping chickens also doesn’t mean you’re totally opting out of industrial farming. Unless you do a lot of research and find an organic or free-range farm or rescue your chickens from a shelter or animal sanctuary, chances are those chicks’ mommas lived in the very battery cages you’re trying to avoid.
There’s also the question of what to do with your chickens when they’re too old to lay. The folks I know who keep chickens consider their hens as family pets, and I could totally see them keeping their hens as companions. That’s not always the case, though. Older hens often end up in animal sanctuaries, if they’re lucky, and shelters where they’ll soon be euthanized, if they’re not.
These are some of the reasons that vegans avoid not just backyard eggs but all eggs. While hens don’t directly suffer or die to produce eggs for people to eat, there are hidden costs and cruelties that are a little bit tough to stomach.
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