Chickens as Livestock? Or Chickens as Pets?
Earlier this week I discussed my chickens as livestock. You can read about it in “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 backyards 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.
If you wish to keep your flock as pets, be prepared to spend extra money on vet bills, feed after they stop laying, and probably some toys and treats for your hens.
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Mine are all pets. Although the Black Copper Marans that start screeching at 6am every morning do give me pause for thought 🙂
Lol! I was thinking about ordering some of them 🙂 Now I’m wondering!
For me, my chickens are pets and not livestock. When I first got them I was only interested in their egg production, but once I found out how fun they are and how each has her own personality, I grew so attached to them. They are my pets just as much as my cats are. I definitely lose money in raising them as feed costs far outweigh income from selling their eggs, but I am ok with that because they make up for it in the joy they bring to my life. I wasn’t expecting to feel this way when I first got them, but that’s how it has worked out. Now the eggs are just a side benefit to me, not the main reason why I keep them. Might sound crazy, but that’s just the way it is on my homestead 🙂
No, it doesn’t sound crazy. 🙂 I could keep chickens for pets too…if feed was cheaper, I had more space, and I didn’t have so many chickens! At 50 laying hens I can’t afford to keep them as pets! But I do understand. They are very entertaining to watch. Enjoy them!
I’ve never culled a sick or injured bird for meat, but I have put them at peace. On the flipside, mean roosters make good stew 😉 We have a few favorites that will probably live here forever, but mostly I re-home older hens with full disclosure. Extra roos become dinner.
It’s great that you can do that. It’s not easy to butcher a hen. I find it much harder than young roosters. Good for you!
I cull old and injured hens as a way to show love. The last hands that hold them should be those of the person who cared for them. I cull mean birds to keep harmony in the barn. Again, a way to show love. I have started culling roosters – mostly from other people who don’t want to do the job – because it’s better than the auction, and I’ve discovered how tasty they are. I haven’t learned to do it without being really upset after though. Roosters are such handsome proud animals.
I think it’s great that you are so thoughtful about the reasons for culling and the way that if affects your chickens. You’re right, it should be as easy for the animals as possible, and who better to do this than the person who has always handled them? Of course, it can’t always be that way, like the roosters that are brought to you. But it is possible to keep them for a day or two to show them you care.
Thanks for sharing!
“Doing in” the chickens can be hard. It bothered me. My husband read an article about “Killing Cones”.They were a little expensive, so he made his own. Actually they are discard cones that are used at track meets. It isn’t quite so bad. The chickens are caught, petted and talk to, then placed upside in the cones, (away from the sight of the others), and the juggler is quickly cut with a newly sharpened knife. The upside down chickens seem to fall asleep in the cones and I believe they don’t know what’s happening. I think it keeps the adrenalin down and makes the meat taste better.
I have tried the cones too. I guess I just felt bad that they were alive while they bled out and some of them struggled quite a bit. That’s why I started chopping their heads off. But I think that the killing cone is very effective and am a big proponent of doing it the way that makes the most sense for you!
And yes, you can make them much cheaper than what the poultry supply places charge! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
I don’t see how folks can afford to feed the chickens if they don’t produce. I’m getting my first ones but know once they quit laying very well they will go into the stew pot as there’s no money for a pet chicken. I’m getting dual breeds that cna go broody so hope to get soem for the freezer and replacements that way. Great post. It’s a reality to butcher non-producers or mean ones.
Honestly, my eggs cost much more by raising them myself. I have to help justify those costs by eating the old hens too. I can understand how people get attached, but I can’t afford to and I know that there are many others who are in the same boat.
Thanks for commenting!
We’re facing the quandry at the moment. None of ours are what one would call old although our 2yo pekin bantams have declared very loudly that they are NOT going to lay eggs for us any more. Haven;t seen a bloody chook egg in months now! We have 20 birds including 3 ducks (2 drakes but they are getting along ok so not sure what will happen as Hubby says he can’t cull a duck), 3 pekin bantams, one of whom is a nasty piece of work, 3 silkies whom have been bought for being broodies next spring and the rest are silver-grey dorkings – 4 hens and the rest rosters including our gentlemanly Blackboy (he was a black chick when little and his colouring is a little different) whom I wish to keep for breeding as long as he doesn’t crow too much. There’s also 1 ‘lorp roo who will meet his maker soon as he’s shown to be a bit on the “I don’t like you people” side. But the pekins were bought as egg laying pets. If they don’t up their game though I don’t know what we will do. Not exactly meat birds and at the moment less than useless except for laughing at their fluffy butts but not sure my husband could do it or that my kids would ever forgive me so…
As for sick hens, noisy roosters (if you’re going to crow every 30 secs on the 30 sec mark from 5am until 8am then you’re going to die) or injured birds then yes, if they can’t be healed they get the chop too.
Wow! That’s a lot to keep track of and to feed if they aren’t laying. It’s tough to get the whole family on board if they are considered pets by the kids. If they aren’t old but aren’t laying, have you checked the nutrition in your feed to see if there is enough calcium, etc.?
It’s an all inclusive feed, organic, and I believe used by the top organic chicken farms in Australia so believe it is complete. They are moulting though given the sheer quantity of feathers around. And Blackboy has been seen sharing his attentions around although one of our pekin bantams, Okku, didn’t want a bar of that and had a real go at him. *snort* She’s a vicious little so and so. 😉
The problem with the ducks is their intelligence and cute factor. The fact that I stupidly named them all had nothing whatsoever to do with it though. 😉 And the pekins were bought for pets so not sure I can change that just because they’re being slack. 🙁
Gotcha…molting makes all the difference! They definitely slack off while they’re molting. Some extra protein is good to help them make new feathers.
Our chickens have been pets – but I am questioning this – three eggs in one week from 6 hens, and we have one rooster….
We have geese that need to go in pot but all of us are putting it off – it is hard!
Yes, those aren’t very good numbers. 🙁 But if you really consider them pets and want to keep them for entertainment then at least they give back more than some other pets!
Nasty roosters and extra roosters go in the pot. Birds that are badly injured do too. If the injury is minor and the hen is a good mom, lays well, or is a favorite (we only have a few favs out of the 30 or so), they will get home-medical care. If I catch one with egg on her beak, she’s also destined for dinner.
None of ours are old enough to be “old” yet, so we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. 🙂
Amen to getting rid of nasty roosters! It sounds like you have a good system working for you. 🙂
We have nine chickens right now. We enjoy it very much. We have 22 more on the way come next month as well as two ducks. We don’t let them free range because our property is not exactly closed in. I would hate for them to all be over with the neighbors.
My son and 8 year old daughter are frequently found holding them and coddling them. I am constantly telling them to remember they will be on the dinner plate some day. We plan to have 15 laying hens because we go through so many eggs in a week. Our family is growing so quickly, and the kids eat so much. So, with the next batch we plan to fill the egg hen house and grow the rest for meat birds. The ducks will be for eggs as well. (If we end up with a female, they were straight run ducklings.)
As for butchering, I know it will need to be done. I have never done it nor has my husband. We aren’t sure what approach we will take, but we do plan to actually do it ourselves.
How exciting! What kind of chickens and ducks are you getting? I’ve always wanted some Khaki Campbell ducks, but have found ducks to be very messy and would need a better set up for their water needs. If I didn’t have so many chickens right now I would order some more Easter Eggers…I love the colors of their eggs.
I think it’s great that you remind the kids about what will happen with the chickens. It’s not an easy lesson for kids to learn. I remember feeling bad for the animals destined for the dinner plate. Especially since the butcher was right next door to my Grandmother’s house and I could hear the plaintive calls of the new arrivals…then silence.
Best wishes with your endeavors! I’d love to hear more 🙂 If you need info on butchering, let me know.
Thanks so much! I know it will be hard for me. My 14 year old (almost 15) daughter, who is visually impaired, is the one who wants to be the butcher. It’s quite humorous. I guess it might be a lot easier if you don’t see red blood. 🙂 My 4 year old asks me if we are eating our chickens every time we have chicken for supper. I have to keep telling her, “Not yet.”
I forgot to tell you we are getting 9 more Buff Orpingtons, 9 more Black Australorps, 4 Ameraucaunas, and 2 Khaki Campbell Ducks. 🙂
What a fun flock! I’m sure that your daughter will do great! It might be good for all of you to watch the process first so you know what you’re getting into. 🙂
We do cull our injured chickens, yes, although it depends on how badly injured they are–we’ve been able to heal many birds, over the years by isolating them from the flock and attending their wounds. Sick birds we cull, too, although those don’t end up on the dinner table unless I’m absolutely sure why they were sick. Old hens that have stopped laying–not so much. The original plan was to do so, but we still have room for them (our flock is fairly small), and as I’ve moved into the “Old hen” category myself, I’ve maybe let them linger in the coop. I know they are no longer doing their job, but I guess I’m providing them with a comfortable retirement in return for their years of service. It wasn’t the plan, but it’s the way it is.
I completely understand the desire to give your hens a comfy retirement! If I didn’t have so many, and it was feasible to feed them, I might do the same. 🙂 Sounds like you have a very happy, healthy flock!