First the local food movement was political. Second, it was trendy. But trends pass, and when people pursue an aesthetic rather than the beliefs that ground it, they’re often the first to move on to the next thing.
So what happens when too many amateur farmers who may be more interested in accessorizing their hens than cleaning out the cages decide to put chickens in their backyards for eggs? Animals shelters begin to swell with new populations of abandoned fowl.
Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.
“Many areas with legalized hen-keeping are experiencing more and more of these birds coming in when they’re no longer wanted,” said Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. “You get some chicks and they’re very cute, but it’s not as though you can throw them out in the yard and not care for them.”
While the vast majority of backyard chickens are surely destined to long, leisurely days of pecking at the dirt and laying eggs for their owners, the rise in abandoned birds has been quite noticeable in recent years, much to the chagrin of the people running shelters, like Mary Britton Clouse at the Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis. She’s “tracked a steady climb in surrendered birds from fewer than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012.”
She traces that rise to the so-called “locavore” movement, which spiked in popularity in 2008 as advocates urged people to eat more food grown and processed close to home.
“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.”
Sometimes backyard bird-tenders end up with roosters instead, whose crows and lack of eggs prove annoying. The ignorance can result in comical letters sent to shelters: “One of our hens grew up into a rooster and our neighbors are starting to complain,” someone wrote Britton Clouse. “Do you know someone who might take him?”
So what’s the solution? Next time you hear that someone who can barely keep a house plant alive is considering chickens, maybe send them this article.