On the One Hand: Chickens

Illustration by Peter and Maria Hoey


Whether you're an organic gardener, a DIY foodie, or a zero-waste advocate, there are plenty of great reasons to raise chickens. Each month, every bird eats up to 7 pounds of table scraps and also rids your yard of snails, slugs, and earwigs. In return, you get nitrogen-rich manure, which (when properly composted) you can use to nourish your garden. Plus, as chickens scratch and forage, their talons naturally aerate the soil. And of course there are the backyard eggs, which, in addition to having vibrant yolks and delicious flavor, contain more vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids than the factory-farmed variety.


Most hens lay eggs consistently for only 2 or 3 years of their 10-year life span. While "spent" hens and noisy, aggressive roosters might make a tasty stew, many sentimental locavores find eating their backyard brood a little too local. Some repurpose retired hens as house pets—even out­fitting them with pricey polka-dot diapers—but most just want to clear the roost for active egg-layers. Animal shelters and farm sanctuaries near urban-poultry hotspots report being overwhelmed by "henopausal" chickens and cock-a-doodling roosters. "People really love their hens," explains Susie Coston, national shelter director for Farm Sanctuary. "But they love them a lot more when they're in production."

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