What’s Wrong with Backyard Eggs?

written with Christine Wells, www.GentleWorld.org


Vegans are accustomed to being asked certain questions:  How can you live without cheese? (Easily and with clean arteries); Where do you get your protein? (Ask a gorilla); What if you and a pig were stranded on a desert island? (….what?).  But we also get asked just as frequently (though somewhat less facetiously) about backyard chickens being kept specifically for eggs.

Initially, raising backyard chickens may seem to address a number of problems from the perspective of avoiding industrialized farming, buying local, and animal welfare. However, as we look more closely at the reality of the backyard chicken trend, it becomes increasingly clear that it is the same commodification of animals, packaged in niche marketing to appeal to the modern “conscious consumer”.

It’s easy to conceptualize the relationship as one of respectful symbiosis in which the backyard farmer provides food and shelter to her flock in exchange for the “gift” of hens’ eggs.  However, this bucolic portrayal ignores several essential ethical concerns, not the least of which being the fundamental issue of whether humans have the right to breed and use other animals for our own purposes, not to mention buying and selling them as chattel property, which is unavoidable when animals are being used as resources.

Unless the individual in question actually rescues their chickens from exploitative situations, the vast majority of backyard chickens originate from the same breeding industry that provides chicks to large-scale farming operations. As a result, virtually all backyard chickens come from industrial hatcheries that employ the same brutal measures that are standard among factory farms (including debeaking) even though the prospective buyer is encouraged to believe otherwise through careful packaging of the “product.”

Like commercial and industrial egg producers, the backyard farm has considerably less use for roosters than for egg-laying hens.  In fact, roosters are frequently illegal in the same municipal areas where hens are permissible.  Hence, male chicks, which (as one would expect) make up 50% of all chicks hatched, are considered expendable and are treated as such, including being killed using the most “cost-effective” means (which often involves being ground up alive, suffocation, or simply dying from starvation or exposure in dumpsters).

The sexing of chicks is not an easy business, so even with the employment of such callous measures, there are many male chicks who make it through the sexing process, and end up being sold as females, only to later be rejected by the very households who purchased them. These unwanted and frequently illegal roosters end up, at best, in farm animal sanctuaries, or local animal shelters with cats and dogs where they will ultimately be “euthanized”.  Hens, too, when their egg productivity wanes later in life and they are no longer wanted, are frequently placed in similar circumstances, unless their owners simply slaughter or sell them for their flesh.

Even if hens are kept by their owners for the rest of their natural lives instead of being slaughtered when egg production wanes, modern domesticated hens are genetically bred to produce an egg a day, which is a far greater rate than is natural or healthy for them.  In other words, domesticated hens are severely malnourished by providing an egg every day, unless they are allowed to eat the vast majority of their own eggs (also mostly unnatural, but due to unnaturally high egg production, necessary for nutrition).  So, taking eggs away from hens at such a high rate of production severely harms hens regardless of how well the hens are otherwise treated.

We can also look at this issue by widening our scope substantially to consider the very concept of participating in domestication.  Domestication is the ongoing process of manipulating another species so that they are more usable as resources for human consumption.  In factory farms, we can see this process continued even more invasively in the genetically engineered animals who grow so much and so quickly that their legs cannot support the weight of their own bodies.

We have bred farmed animals into a state of constant dependence such that their continued existence actually relies on our intervention.  This is particularly relevant to backyard chickens, as they are very vulnerable to predators, including cats, snakes, foxes, and birds of prey.  And if you live in an area where raising chickens is a possibility, it is quite likely that these creatures–whose right to life and survival is just as valid–will also be present.  And with the staggering number of homeless animals in the world, breeding more into existence under the thin guise of locavorism is a completely unwarranted and counterproductive measure.

If you really care about chickens and have the means to support and protect them—including the cost of veterinary care, which can be considerable–consider getting involved in rescue work.  Depending on where you live, traditionally farmed animals are sometimes brought into shelters most generally used for dogs and cats, and are just as much in need of being saved from the gas chamber or lethal injection.

There is no shortage of animals needing refuge and protection.  Consider offering the safety of your backyard as a sanctuary to a homeless animal instead of purchasing one as a resource.

written with Christine Wells, www.GentleWorld.org

Gentle World is a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization, whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition. For more information about vegan food and other aspects of a vegan lifestyle, visit the Gentle World website and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.


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Monique D.
Monique D.about a year ago

Info to think about

Dale O.
DaleLovesOttawa O.about a year ago

Backyard eggs are marvellous if the hens are treated well. Elaine A, if the egg is unfertilized, the egg will never hatch into a chick.

Antonio C said to me:

"@ Dale O - what you "like" eating is hardly relevant to the issue. Your attempt to rationalize your decision to consume animal flesh is clearly fallacious to the point of being ridiculous."

How so? Eating meat is hardly illegal, nor is this a crime (although some vegans would like it to be), nor is the decision to eat meat outside of the norms of society, despite the attempts of some to stigmatize what people have done for thousands of years as something that is somehow to be abhorred. If you don't wish to either eat eggs or eat meat, that is your decision, but meat has been part of the human diet of many people for ages, therefore it is not fallacious at all. Only to vegans and vegetarians who don't believe that eating meat is acceptable to them, but that doesn't mean that only plant-based eating is for everyone. Yes, I 'like' eating many things, be it veggies, legumes, grains, meat, eggs, cheese and honey but food is also, for the most part, nutritional and required to survive and not everyone does well on a vegan or vegetarian diet. So if
a person likes certain food, it hardly takes away from its nutritional value.

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants2 years ago

There is nothing wrong with ANTS, I suppose?

Silvia W.
Silvia W.2 years ago

After several years raising chickens, I agree they aren't the brightest bulbs in the lamp, but I enjoyed working with them. We had a large fenced-in yard, about an acre, near their chicken house. We raised the cockerels for meat and kept the pullets to replace elderly hens. Our roosters had distinctive calls, so we could recognize them.

Jeramie D.
Jeramie D.2 years ago

Lots of things to think about. I am a vegetarian and get my eggs from a friend's friend who has them in her backyard as egg laying pets. Now I want to go see them.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

(cont)................ Are they "affectionate"? Absolutely not. They do "squat" and allow me to pet them but it's about a "gesture" of submission more than anything. Seems they've figured it out that if I reach down to pet them and they "comply", then they are allowed to then get those tasty mealworms I may have brought with me.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Exactly, Rosemary! I have 6 hens, and they were only a few days "hatched" when I got them. I got mine at the feedstore where I buy my horses' feed and was told that they were from local "breeders" if you want to call them that. When I first moved here, I boarded my horses at a nearby farm where they also kept a couple of cows, turkeys, goats and yes, chickens. They did have one rooster and when chicks were hatched, she kept a few and took the others to the feed store. I never paid that much attention at the time.

Mine are all female (hens) and I was told when I got them that they were likely to be all hens, but at that age, no guarantee. I guess I "lucked out". I got them in the 3rd week of March and they've been laying for almost 2 months now. I usually get 5 - 6 eggs a day, sometimes just 4, but today I got 7. Mine have a "house/coop" where they roost at nite and have their "nesting boxes", but they go in them only to lay. They do not sit (brood) at all. They have free access to an "outside" yard that is about 40' x 60' and weather permitting, they get out of that and can completely free roam on almost 5 acres. When I go to the door of their yard, they immediately come running back and go in by themselves.

They most certainly are not the "brightest bulbs in the pack", and seem to act more out of instinct than anything.........highly reactive. They are NOT debeaked and when they come flocking to me, they can "peck" pretty hard. Are they "affectionate

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H.2 years ago

I'm sure that the thoughtful person wanting backyard chickens can find a local small breeder who will provide him/her with chickens that have not been debeaked, and who deals with all those suplus young cockerels in a way that causes minimum suffering. ( I admit I don't like this aspect of it!)

Once you have these unmutilated hens, you can enjoy watcing them live in the present as they scratch around like their ancestors, the Red Junglefowl. I like Dutch bantams in the colour variety called Gold Partridge, because they look so like the original wild birds. I believe they lay few eggs - some people keep chickens for pets just because they like them! Why shouldn't we have different breeds? Only when deformities and health problems become a part of the breed characteristics, as in some breeds of dog.

If your chickens lay plenty of unfertilised eggs, you will note that they mostly can't be bothered to brood them, so you are not disturbing their maternal instincts by taking them.

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin2 years ago

never thought of it that way

Geoff P.
Past Member 2 years ago

I really do think country people live in the real world and the city folk just do not realise animals
are animals and not human with human mentality.