Backlash On Backyard Chickens



Anyone who studies cultural history should have seen this coming. The popularity of keeping chickens in city or village backyards, which my grandmother was doing almost a hundred years ago, has brought with it a problem in some places that my grandmother never had to worry about. The New Age farmers learn how endearing a pet chicken can become while it produces breakfast eggs fresher than any you can buy.  But then the hens grow old and quit laying eggs. By then, they have become a part of the family, as cherished as Bowwow and Meowwow. Their owners do not have the heart or the will or the knowledge to butcher them for first rate chicken soup. So the old hens go to the nearest animal shelter. It seems like quite a few hens from what I read, though it is only an infinitesimal number compared to the number of dogs and cats that end up this way. The people who have opposed the great backyard chicken movement are gleefully telling me, “I told you so, you rosy-eyed contrary farmer. Chickens belong in factories, not backyards.” Such people fight for their right to keep big barking bowwows in their backyards because that is part of their sacred tradition. (Can you imagine the earth-shaking uproar that would occur if we kept cats in factories?) If I tell them that chickens in the backyard are every bit an ancient sacred tradition, they just glare at me. They remind me of the people who want guns because that’s their sacred traditional second amendment rights but who do not know how to shoot their guns much less shoot straight. Even if they do know how, they do not have the fortitude to kill a mouse much less a pet hen.

But the cultural agony does not end there. In many suburbs you can’t hang out a clothesline, build a garden fence or bury a dead pet in the yard, even if your lot embraces an acre or so. Laws like this are insane to me. A dead chicken or two every year can be buried in the garden, like the Indians buried a fish under every hill of corn, to enrich the soil. The insane laws seem to be necessary because they are made for insane people. There will always be budding egg tycoons who will go overboard in the size of their flock and then try to bury dead ones by the dozen along the property line with the neighbors.

One of the big jokes around Hudson, Ohio is the fact that in that vicinity there is a small-animal veterinary hospital that sits right across the road from a small-animal cemetery. Not very good advertising, but, well, it’s a solution that seems to work. It just costs more money than less affluent people are willing to spend. But that might just be the spark that motivates the New Age farmer to become a Full Age farmer. If you want your own fresh eggs, learn how to butcher your elderly hens (and those roosters you thought were hens) for delicious coq au vin or pay to get public or private service to do that part of farming for you.

Even as I write this, Carol and I are butchering our year’s supply of broilers. It definitely is not my favorite job. The only thing that keeps me going is remembering just how good they will taste later on. We have never had to worry about our old hens. The foxes, coyotes, hawks, coons, minks and weasels make sure of that.


Jeez, Anne. Harsh. Irrelevant. Vulgar. Get a life.

How could you be so cruel and inhumane? Why don’t you just purchase already-killed animals from the supermarket, rather than just slaughtering innocent creatures for the heck of it? Backyard chickens are wonderful. They give abundant eggs and several hours of laughs and entertainment. Although they may have “pecking problems”, they are almost always very sweet pets. So the next time you think about killing a chicken, or any other animal, for that matter, think: “What the f*ck am I doing? I had better stop.”

I apologize to the readers of this blog for the tone of my comment above. I am sure Mr. Thomas is an ethical hunter who takes shots only when he has the best opportunity for a kill, and deer are wounded by gunfire as well, usually because of inexperience or taking too long range of a shot. Some wounded deer recover from arrows better than from gun shots, according to some surveys.
I still will go for a clean heart shot from a 30.06.

Mr. Thomas: I grew up hunting deer with a rifle. My dad had no tolerance for anyone who only wounded a deer. He was appalled at the rate of wounded deer from bowhunters who let the animals escape to die in agony days later from an arrow in the gut. If arrows had explosive heads or a means of pinpointing the animal for tracking, they would be acceptable to me. Otherwise, except for the exceptional stalker who can get close enough for a clean kill, I consider it a cruel and wasteful way of hunting.

I can’t do it, Gene. I know I can’t butcher them.

I have three hens now, all young and laying eggs like ammunition. Next year I intend to expand my flock three more, and three more the next year. My hope is to keep a small laying flock for my family of two-to-three eggs a day without fully blowing (ok nine is one over…) our municipal eight hen limit.

We do cuddle our chickens. They truly are a part of our family much like a dog would be, but I worry about keeping a dog in the city since it’s usefulness would be relegated mainly to entertainment and companionship and the idea of a keeping a creature merely as a “pet” is very uncomfortable to me.

The chickens eat a huge percentage of our compostable food waste and in turn give us amazing eggs and hours of entertainment. I can’t imagine a better arrangement. They have become very important to us in the way that pigs are important if you have more abundant waste, which we do not have successful enough gardens to justify. It is my hope to create an urban plot so abundant that additional livestock is considered in order to consume what we humans are too fabulous to put in our mouths.

So my backyard chickens are pets as well as an excellent food and entertainment source in my small space in the city. I know I can’t eat them. I plan to help make them useful even in their dotage. I think I could, however, eat someone else’s geriatric hen. Perhaps I ought to form some sort of urban chicken-meat swap?


Thanks for all of your hard work and interesting perspective,


Maybe if they learned how to really hunt an old fashioned hickory or osage or maple longbow and wooden arrows shot from 20 yards or less at the deer that are totally unaware you are in the vicinity and standing broadside, they wouldn’t even need the guns. In our state a “hunter” has to make a choice to hunt with either a gun or a bow. I still own guns but hunt with a bow; it’s much safer , totally more challenging and just loads of fun.

Albeit, my version of bowhunting for deer might be interpreted as catch and release bowhunting. I can place three arrows in a two to three inch circle at twenty yards on targets,using hickory longbows and wooden arrows, but when I go bowhunting I tend to :”Catch my breath, release the arrow and usually watch the deer run away unscathed, hence I’m a catch and release bowhunter. No bullets flying around or loud bangs to disturb the neighbors.

That’s why I raise a small amount of livestock. I can shoot the ones to be harvested with a 22 rifle bullet in the brain from inches away (where even I don’t miss) and they are instantly dead. As I write this I’m taking a break from butchering a goat which was enjoying nibbling on shrubbery when I squeezed the trigger. She never knew what happened. She was fed on pasture, weeds and hay made from dried grass clippings as Gene suggests. I’ll be using the manure pack she helped create to make compost and mulch for the garden. Those of us who are garden farmers are in reality much closer to the cycles of life and death than most folks.

Karen, you’ve got to be kidding me. Here’s a scene that repeats itself every deer season around here. A small army of hunters appears on the brow of a hill opposite my brow of the hill. I welcome them. We have way too many deer. As they march forward, two whitetails emerge from the brush along the creek below us. All hell breaks loose. It sounds like WWIII has begun. The deer prance briskly away unscathed, flashing their tails derisively behind them. These guys can’t shoot straight, Karen. If they could, we wouldn’t have such a deer overpopulation problem. 🙂 Gene

Gene, do you actually know people “who want guns because that’s their sacred traditional second amendment rights but who do not know how to shoot their guns much less shoot straight.” I promise you, as someone who is very much aware of the fast decline of our Second Amendment right, I do know how to shoot my gun and I do shoot straight. I found your gun comment puzzling as I have many, many friends and acquaintances who are Second Amendment advocates, and your observation has not been mine. Of course, your comment might have been facetious. I do enjoy your dry humor!

Regarding the fate of backyard chickens, I have heard the stories of past-their-prime hens being dumped on our already overcrowded animal shelters. I don’t know if it’s simply a case of not doing your homework first, or just plain stupidity. My hens will be dispatched to the stock pot when they stop earning their keep. And I may start checking in periodically with our local animal shelter. I wonder how many meals, errr, hens I can “adopt” before the shelter people become suspicious?

the first hen i butchered i simply skinned her. less fat and all feathers removed. She was delicious. I dont pluck feathers (though i miss the crispy skin). unfortunately for us we no longer have chickens do to poorly and hidden ordinances but we are working to change that

Just like my 6th grade teacher always said. “They are not pets, eventually you will slaughter them”.

Exactly how we feel about it.

Pretty big generalization about the wildlife. I’m guessing most released predator’s do fine as long as there is habitat. However, the cats people keep dropping on my driveway are definitely at a high risk of dying. And the ducks that were dropped on the pond tasted pretty good. Anyone wishing to abandon poultry at my place is more than welcome. Prefer they left them in a cage, however. Easier than chasing them about. I never did catch that white peacock. I think it died in the winter.

We raised 2 batches of 24 birds for meat last year, so I learned all the steps. Hiring a scalder and plucker is worth it! So is doing with a pro the first few times. Shedding a tear for anything you kill to eat, I feel, is a sign of maturing as a human. It’s an acknowledgment of the organism’s sacrifice, and an act of gratitude. Then it’s time to move on and get the work done. You always linger over the ones that have really touched your heart, but don’t harden your heart so you don’t feel the loss. Do the work well, and in doing so, you give thanks.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go thank the garlic I’m going to pull this weekend.

roaming butcher trucks are becoming more and more common as well groups of meat eaters raising their own and hiring one to come

No one should be allowed to have chickens, guns, or common sense, it’s just not fashionable nowadays.

Lee: Beth Greenwood has answered you better than I could. Yes, I do like soup if it has chunks of meat in it, but no kind of soup is up there with what I call really good eating. Soup is handy. You can make up a pot and then have it all week. Funny thing. Our grandsons, who often prefer to go to MacDonalds or somesuch, love Carol;s chicken soup. We make it from the backs and necks of our broilers usually— Carol cooks them in the pressure cooker. But she does old hens for soup or broth the same way. We seldom have old hens that don’t lay, as others have said here. They will go on laying for five year anyway, especially if they aren’t treated to highpowered commercial feeds and those dumb lights on all night. Over several years, around here, the wild animals take care of them. Gene Logsdon

The youngest grandkids and I had a conversation on this issue not too long ago. One of those “How can you kill them, they’re so cute?” conversations although we were talking about pigs in that instance. So I talked to them about abbatoirs and pulled up some pictures to show them farrowing crates and “cageless” chicken conditions, pointed out that our animals have sun, fresh air, grass, etc. and why that made for healthy food. Segued into the “we kill them as quickly and humanely as possible” speech and about how yes, sometimes you cry when you kill an animal for meat. There’s an emotional component to butchering, and unless you’re a true sociopath, it’s foolish to pretend that you can kill another living thing without feeling it. I think it was the pictures of the sows in farrowing crates that made the biggest impression on the kids. The youngest informed her mother the next day that it was so mean, because the mama pigs couldn’t lie down and the baby pigs didn’t even have enough room for a piggy rodeo (which is what we call it when they go racing around the pen, swapping ends, jumping up in the air and falling over, just for fun). They decided it was better to have a good life and a quick death, since the animal was going to be meat, anyway (they don’t consider vegetarianism an option, and neither do I).
Lee, on cooking the old hens… Up to about two years of age, coq au vin cooked in a crockpot is about the best way to handle older chickens. Really old hens make great chicken broth. Add a little vinegar to the water to leach the calcium out of the bones. The meat really isn’t worth eating by the time you’ve cooked it for two or three hours, although if you want to make chicken soup it’s OK. Well-cooked chicken shreds nicely, so enchiladas are a good way to use it, and the spices help to compensate for the lack of flavor.The other thing you can do is shred it and freeze it, then mix half-and-half with meat from broilers for casseroles, enchiladas, etc. I often give mine to the dogs or the pigs, when I’ve had to butcher a number of old chickens at once, or let the other hens eat it to recycle the protein in new eggs.

My old birds are made into dumplings, soup, or chicken stock generally.

I’ve raised chickens for (I hate to say this) 30 years now, starting from a base of total ignorance. For years we butchered, or rather the children and I did, since it was easier than making my husband help. So he ended up being the axman. Now I take my extras to a nice man who butchers them for $3.50 a bird. Great value! But this spring when I was faced with some health issues, I actually had my husband kill several old hens rather than butcher them. In the past I have tried canning them and slow cooking them, and the meat is just strings. So then I end up grinding the meat and making enchiladas. It works, but I didn’t have the energy for all that this year. So my question for you all now is, how do you treat the meat from old hens? Do you just not mind stringy meat? Do you love soup?

Well, it seems people seem oblivious to facts re: “Free range”: 1) Chickens that free range, although they don’t cost as much to feed, are notorious for hiding their eggs, at least if they aren’t too domesticated as in: ” hi there Mr Raccoon” ; and, 2 ) although they eat a lot of bugs and other pests they also can totally destroy a vegetable garden and fly into trees to eat tree-ripened fruit, which they seem to enjoy as much as I do; and 3) if they take to roosting in a fruit tree the copious and highly nitrogenous poop will at least cause a tree to have yellow and weak leaves to the point that tree health is injured, in my experience,( if borers or other pests attack the tree as well then that tree may very well not survive,) so after I’ve experienced all these headaches, my formerly free range birds are now in a pen.

Yes I know about chicken tractors. I used them fifty years ago, but I was obviously much younger then and had both more energy and more free time, so chicken tractors aren’t an option now. I still mow grass, clover and green weeds daily to supplement their diet of commercial feed and kitchen scraps and grit, both oyster shell and small gravel, but the price of feed now and the amount the birds consume means my eggs probably cost more than store eggs.

If a hen gets broody and sets on the eggs laid in the pen ( A daily occurrence with my hens) it doesn’t take long until egg quality starts to decrease. Eating eggs with developing chicks isn’t my idea of good food. So, I’m forced to do some severe culling simply because feed costs are too high. If I could grow all my own feed that would be different. Simply put it’s probably easier to feed 6-12 hens from homestead resources than 24, but those 6-12 hens had better lay well or they too will end up in the pot.

The harsh reality of country life is that nothing, even friendly old hens, can get a free ride for long, hence the necessity of culling. If I passed the hens on to neighbors to free range it’s quite likely a rooster would somehow find them (That is how I got my chickens originally) and then the neighbors would have to deal with predators, overpopulation of chickens and devastated gardens. Why pass such problems on to neighbors and friends, unless you no longer want them as friends? It makes more sense to convert the excess chickens to delicious and nutritious food, hence I have little patience with preservationists unwilling to kill anything, even humanely.

And the idea of being a vegan, as in eating vegetable food, instead of killing animals such as chickens, implies almost of necessity the loss of pastures and lawns and conversion of same to, in most cases, tillage agriculture, which is allegedly responsible for marine dead zones in such other-wise biologically productive marine areas as the Gulf of Mexico.

Therefore; Please cull, butcher and eat excess chickens with pride that you are doing good for yourself and the planet. Save the best, cull the rest. Having said that I’m now faced with the dreadful task of going out and butchering excess fowl. As my wife often points out, for the cost of feed I could buy a lot of eggs from the store. True enough , but it’s the idea of not supporting animal concentration camps and agribusiness that I’m trying to live out, but even buying feed is supporting big agribusiness, so in some ways I’m probably as guilty as the vegans I rant about. Guess I’ll have some chicken soup with vegetables and contemplate what I should do now to be an ethical truly self-sufficient homesteader, if there really is such a person. .

I have read the news article about chickens ending up in animal shelters. Comical in a Monty Pythonesque manner. The local animal shelter my wife and I volunteer for has taught us that most humans are clueless when it comes to the responsibilities of having animals, furred or feathered. I would guess that they are abandoned more for purposes of convenience than for other reasons.

A good hen will lay a lot longer than most imagine. We have had hens continue laying for upwards of seven or eight years Even after that their maternal instincts remain strong. They are the default brooders as a fair number of our very mixed heritage flock won’t go broody. We are also fortunate to live not far from a wonderful gentleman who processes birds (chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys) at a very reasonable price. Show up at the appointed time and leave 45 minutes to an hour later with 50 freezer ready birds. We only home cull for injury or illness. Injured stewed for the dogs and ill buried.

One the meat producers at Market has been known to take live birds in trade for a dressed broiler. He says the usual ratio is 3 or 4 to one. It works to his advantage as many are very young cocks who have just started to crow. Most suburbanites get straight runs it seems. A big no no as roosters are verboten in the chicken friendly Townships surrounding our Enormous State University.

Gene, I admire your gumption processing a mess of birds at home. I am horribly inefficient at the task and I enjoy the time and conversation I get when visiting Eli. Also the old store near him has teaberry whoopie pies. That is excuse enough for me.

Enjoy and prepare for the onslaught of zucchinis.

Just Saturday a man who frequents my workplace brought me 2 cockerels. He had raised 6 birds. The males he didn’t know what to do with so he asked if I would take them. I informed him that they would be butchered. He was fine with that, but he wouldn’t do it. I got two broilers and he had two less mouths to feed. Everyone wins if you play the game right

“There are studies that state that animals released far from home are at high risk of dying through being in unfamiliar country anyway, so is a waste of resources and ultimately unkind.”

Right, Joanna, and the ones killed on the road do not die a clean death, either. Here in Cali, of all skunks tested, 65% carry rabies, thus catch and release spreads it faster. They are also carriers of many other diseases.

As to the original topic, I do not have the room for chickens, unless I want to raise them cruelly, as many without compunctions do, in order to have fresh eggs, and the bragging rights that come with the fact. Those chickens do not live lives measurably better than the factory raised ones, in my opinion. Instead, I buy my eggs locally from someone who cares about the lives her chickens live. She puts them in the freezer, though, after they are no longer productive, with no hand-wringing.

There are studies that state that animals released far from home are at high risk of dying through being in unfamiliar country anyway, so is a waste of resources and ultimately unkind. For academic rigours sake here is the title where I got that piece of information from Conover, M. (2002). Resolving human-wildlife conflicts: The science of wildlife damage management. Lewis Publishers: Boca Raton

I think a roaming butcher with a truck that can handle the butchery side of things would be about the best idea going for any kind of meat on smallholders farms. Saves trying to take them to the big guys.

As always Gene, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve kept backyard chickens most of my life and have absolutely no qualms about butchering them when it needs to be done. I figure they’ve lived a far better life than they would have raised in one of those commercial places, and I make sure they suffer minimally at the end. They are treated with respect but they are NOT pets – they serve a purpose. They bring me great joy during their lives – my favorite way to relax is to sit in a lawn chair, read my kindle, and watch them scratching around looking for bugs, clucking contentedly as they go. They lay delicious eggs. The broodies raise new chicks for me. Do I value them? Absolutely! But I don’t feed them into a retirement where they have outlived their usefulness. I know this may sound callous to some but to me it is just realistic.

Some I grow fonder of than others. One such bird was a little Bourbon Red turkey I hatched this spring. Unfortunately a few weeks ago she grew lame and it quickly became apparent it was a progressive crippling condition. By this week, she was having difficulty getting around so two days ago, I picked her up, sliced her throat, and 15 minutes later she was resting in a pot of water in the fridge. We will eat her tonight. I cried. Yes indeed – I did. She was the closest thing to a pet that my birds will ever get. But I wasn’t about to let her die a slow, lingering death, watching her starve because she could no longer access the feeder easily.

Isn’t THAT also what its about? Keeping backyard chickens for eggs but ALSO to have them be healthier and happier than they are in commercial operations? Because happy and healthy means what we eat is also healthier?

Small Farmer in Frisco July 24, 2013 at 10:01 am

Evil but entertaining, Steve

I should say I am a wanna be but won’t be a backyard chicken person. Unless I can get my mind around the whole gnarly thing. It would be nice to have fresh eggs.

Small Farmer in Frisco July 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

That is an excellent option, Ken…for that matter, you might check in with a local food bank or homeless shelter and see if they would be willing to help subsidize a weekly cull in exchange for the meat for their clients…personally, I think “farming out” the old hens for garden pest control and fertilizer dooty (so to speak) in the neighborhood extends the value of the animals…

Gene, I always learn from your blog and it makes me laugh. Yeah, I am one of these backyard chicken people, not that I have any chickens. I don’t because I couldn’t kill them, and worse, if I did it would ruin my taste for chicken which I do enjoy. There is the conundrum in a nutshell. So I outsource the whole chicken thing to others. Thank goodness for farmers markets!!!

Hello Gene: I bet people write to you and act like they know you well. It feels that way to me because you are so open in sharing your knowledge in such a personal way.

Since this story talks about old hens, do you need an older hen as an intern? Ive decided I want to come live with you and your lovely wife and be a part of your family and work with you.

Whoa, I wonder what I would do if you said yes.

Consider this a note from an adoring fan who is longing for her piece of land and a bunch of hens.

God bless and thanks for the great writing and thinking.

My best, Natalie Manor, Knoxville TN

P.S. My grown kids think your Holy Shit book is wonderful. Me too.

*From:* The Contrary Farmer [] *Sent:* Wednesday, July 24, 2013 9:40 AM *To:* *Subject:* [New post] Backlash On Backyard Chickens

Dave Smith posted: ” From GENE LOGSDON Anyone who studies cultural history should have seen this coming. The popularity of keeping chickens in city or village backyards, which my grandmother was doing almost a hundred years ago, has brought with it a problem in some “

One backyard case of avian flu or something like it and it’s all over.

During the long-drawn-out process to get backyard chickens re-legalized here, our Farmers Institute stepped up and volunteered to deal with old, worn out poultry. That doesn’t solve the problem of people getting so fond of their chooks they can’t kill them, but it does provide a way out for other folks.

You know, don’t even get me started on the New Age Gardeners. I live amongst ’em. They seem to think nothing should be killed, not even the Organic, Free-Range Chicken they are grilling on their Green Egg grill.

I have to be extremely careful with what info I tell to whom. I have trapped and euthanized 10 skunks in the last two months, and no end in sight. At least the damage to my garden is much less, but the task is not fun, always unnerving. Trapping and releasing( except onto ones’ own property) is illegal because of the spread of other diseases, and they only return, anyway.

You try explaining this to these idealists, I am done wasting my breath. I just do the dirty deed in the early a.m., about dawn, a time few of my neighbors will experience firsthand. Too busy sleeping off the effects of their Medicinal Cannabis, I suppose. I am surrounded by young twenty somethings, in chronic pain, due undoubtedly to their long careers doing nothing but backyard pot farming. The poor darlings, I should buy a rooster for the sheer joy of getting them out of their beds before the crack of noon.

Reblogged this on Fort Pelham Farm and commented:
Leave it to Gene to tell it like it is (with a photo to boot).

You can’t buy any thing that tastes as good as a free roaming chicken , so you have to feed the odd scavenger a bit , as part of the price of gourmet food . Cleaning and plucking a chicken is a horrible job for sure , but that too is part of the price of great food , that no amount of money could buy . Unless of coarse you buy it from free range farmer . No factory farm can reproduce what we can grow in our back yards , even if its just a carrot . Another benefit is we grow it at a fraction of the price of store bought .

I have to tell you, I work with a lady that has hens in Louisville, Ky. She will never kill them. I keep asking when we will get a taste of good chicken and dumplings but that does not seem to go over well.
I don’t butcher chickens any longer but we use to put up about 100 fryers a year and that was the nastiest job I ever had. Of course we did not have a fancy plucking machine so everything was done by hand. If I knew of a butcher that would process the hens they would be in business for sure. Maybe I need to ask my local butcher. That would be a solution!
I would gladly pay to have them processed and “town” people with chickens would not have witness old hen looking at the business end of a butcher knife.

What do you all think. Is this a solution?


Guilty as charged! Well that was the case about ten years ago or so. We kept three hens in an ark in Derbyshire, England for their eggs and then they stopped laying. We hadn’t got the heart to butcher them, but then again they were also producing first rate compost and we never had a problem palming them off at holiday time to neighbours to improve the fertility of their gardens. Our veg did well out of it and we headed off to other shores not much later and one of our neighbours took the remaining two hens to see out their days. We now do butcher our own hens from time to time, mainly cockerels, but we did butcher a young hen by mistake – well it did look like one of the young cockerels we were butchering at the time. Having said that, we have given a cockerel a reprieve, because it appears to be looking after some incubator raised chicks rather well and hopefully teaching them to go in their box at night, rather than having to be caught and stuffed in the box manually. (I can almost hear you laughing at all this Gene)

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