Chickens as Livestock? Or Chickens as Pets?
Earlier this week I discussed my chickens as livestock. You can read about it on “Butchering an Injured Chicken.” Keeping chickens for pets is a relatively new pastime. With the switch from an agrarian culture to a predominantly urban and suburban culture, most people have never raised chickens. They go to the grocery store to purchase cartons of uniformly colored and shaped eggs and Styrofoam packaged cuts of meat. There is a very real disconnect between the animals we see in children’s books on picturesque farms and the end product we put on our plates.
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For many people there is a desire to return to a more pastoral way of life. The idea of a small flock of chickens scratching about in the yard under an apple tree is very tempting. More and more suburbanites are keeping a few hens in their back yards for eggs. They have names like Matilda or Henrietta, and cozy coops with signs that say ‘Fresh Eggs For Sale.’ I understand the desire to keep pet chickens. Is it really any wonder that we order fluffy little chicks, raise them up, and become attached to them? After all, a chicken that is hand raised with treats learns that people are a source of food and comfort, and they will follow you around with no fear.
Some of my first chickens had names. I’ve had several that followed me around the yard to see what kind of bugs I would stir up. We even had a young chicken that would come up on our deck and look in the glass door to see what I was up to. However, I never lost sight of the fact that each and every chicken that came to our house was likely to end up on our table eventually. Chickens raised on our homestead are livestock. I collect the eggs until production tapers off and then they are used for meat.
Culling Sick or Injured Chickens
Culling sick, injured, and old chickens is a natural part of homesteading. In days gone by farmers and homesteaders didn’t keep chickens as pets. They were raised for meat and eggs to feed the family or to provide income. There wasn’t room in the budget to feed chickens that were no longer productive. If a laying hen was injured or showed signs of illness, there was no chicken vet to call. People had to be practical.
I grew up with this reality from a very early age. I helped my Dad butcher roosters and I knew that our pigs and beef cattle would go to the butcher down the road. This made it much easier for me to butcher my own chickens when the time came. I won’t lie and say that it’s easy to kill an animal. I feel bad every time I butcher one of my chickens. But it is necessary to cull those that are old, sick, or injured in a timely manner so they aren’t suffering or consuming extra feed.