When you deem yourself in charge of an animal for the primary purpose of consuming some part of that animal you are automatically establishing the preconditions for some level of abuse. I can already see some of you squirming, sighing, sputtering, thinking, “yeah, McWilliams, but I do it right.” No you don’t. My axiom still applies because what might appear to be innocuous or even beneficial arrangements—such as keeping hens for their eggs—are in fact quietly exploitative in ways most of us never see. Forget for now that no contractual arrangement could ever make those eggs your eggs, and forget that humans can never know what’s “right” for chickens. The deal is this: when you want the eggs you will play chess with “nature” to maintain access to those eggs. And when you do that, animals become a pawn to your palate.
I was reminded of the darker side of this truth while spending time (what seemed an eternity’s worth) at a website called backyardchickens.com. The site is like an ad-hoc hootenanny for small-scale chicken owners who, do not doubt it, love owning chickens. Spend enough time reading about the quotidian tribulations of poultry proprietors and you quickly learn about the centrality of violence in chicken ownership. In point of fact the chickens, so long as they are pumping out eggs with sufficient speed, are typically treated with a measure of decency, but woe to any creature that comes between a chicken owner and her precious eggs. ”Farm fresh eggs”—I hate that term—is a reality brought to you by the systematic extermination of raccoons, hawks, snakes, and opossum. Anything that moves too close to the egg source is ultimately bound to be sighted in the crosshair’s of some chicken owning lunatic or other.
Even dogs. Pet dogs. Neighbors’ dogs. Behold:
Has anyone killed a neighbour’s dog who was killing chickens? If so, how did it work out between you? My neighbours 2 roads away had a husky that got free. My husband didn’t recognize the dog as someone’s pet (we had never seen it before). I wasn’t home at the time. Apparently it was just running from chicken to chicken killing it and moving on to the next. My daughter was out there in the melee, the horses were going crazy, and it’s hard to give a dog the benefit of being a pet and not a feral beast or rabid thing when it is killing without pause and not listening to commands to stop. My husband shot it.
A bull dog came up in my yard, killed 19 of my chickens and I had to take care of one other one because it’s back was split wide open. I killed the dog. Shot it dead. I was so mad I was shaking and crying at the same time. I called the sheriff’s office and filed a report and animal control came to get the dog. The owners met animal control at the end of my driveway and animal control allowed them to have their dog back so they could take care of the body.?I lost 20 birds and I have one other missing that I can’t find the body or the live bird.??
Such are the dispatches from the world of humane, small-scale, local, and non-industrial chicken farming. Defenders of egg exploitation will assuredly contend that nature is nature and dogs eat chickens and chickens eat insects and this is the way of the world, etc., etc. and so on. Sure. But does that mean we have to both set the parameters within which animals go after each other (which is exactly what “pasture based” farmers do when they turn their birds out to free range) and then celebrate the death that inevitably results (often at our hands) by making an omelet and praising our “self-sufficiency”?