Local food advocates and urban hipsters have, in the past few years, taken to the conviction that owning and raising your own chicken is ecologically responsible, healthful and, if all goes well, delicious. But unbeknownst to those darn "stupid foodies," chickens typically lay eggs for two years and then live egg-less for ten more, leaving you with a dirty bird to care for. Unsurprisingly, taking care of the fowl is too much responsibility for some of these owners, who are increasingly abandoning them in animal shelters.
“They’re put on Craigslist all the time when they don’t lay any more,” National Shelter Director Susie Coston told NBC News. “They’re dumped all the time.”
Coston estimates that her organization takes in about 400-500 chickens a year across its three shelters. The problem, too, is that adoption of these mistreated chickens is not all that high; about half of the abandoned fowl are still awaiting a new home and owner, Coston said.
“People don’t know what they’re doing," said the leader of the appropriately-named Chicken Run Rescue. "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.”
The first major squabble over urban chickens came to a head last fall in Park Slope, Brooklyn between community farmers and neighbors who argued that the poultry smelled and attracted rats and vermin. That row highlighted the fact that many people still think that owning chickens is pretty weird. We've come a long way, but not quite that far.
While it is not yet time to declare the urban chicken a national problem, there are other signs that it is quickly becoming one. A woman in Seattle has turned her backyard into a chicken and duck sanctuary for "refugees," which, we imagine, can't be making her neighbors too happy. Minneapolis, meanwhile, has noticed an uptick from 50 to 500 abandoned chickens per year over the past decade.
Despite all this, the popularity of homestead chickens continues to grow; the website backyardchickens.com claims it has 200,000 chicken-loving members. The individuals are apparently unfazed by studies showing urban-grown eggs are less safe to eat because of high lead concentration.
But if we can take Coston, the shelter director, at her word, the chickens really are quite lovable.
“Oh, my god, they’re amazing,” Coston said. “We have some of the sweetest ones here. They just sit beside you and they let you pet them. And they’re big and dumpy.”
As for hipsters who have found the challenges of urban farming a tad too great, it looks like the chickens have come home to roost.