US: When the problems come home to roost
Posted: October 24th, 2009 - 3:35pm
Source: New York Times
The Bay Area is unmatched in its embrace of the urban backyard chicken trend. But raising chickens, which promises delicious, untainted eggs and instant membership in the local food movement, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Chickens, it turns out, have issues.
They get diseases with odd names, like pasty butt and the fowl plague. Rats and raccoons appear out of nowhere. Hens suddenly stop laying eggs or never produce them at all. Crowing roosters disturb neighbors.
The problems get worse. Unwanted urban chickens are showing up at local animal shelters. Even in the best of circumstances, chickens die at alarming rates.
“At first I named them but now I’ve stopped because it’s just too hard,” said Sharon Lane, who started with eight chickens in a coop fashioned from plywood and chicken wire in the front yard of her north Berkeley home. She’s down to three.
Ms. Lane, who is close friends with the restaurateur Alice Waters, wanted exceptional eggs, plain and simple. But her little flock has been plagued with mysterious diseases.
She has not taken them to the vet because of the high cost, but she goes to workshops and searches out cures on the Internet. She has even put garlic down their throats in hopes that the antibacterial qualities of the cloves might help.
For some animal rights workers, the backyard chicken trend is as bad as the pot-bellied pig craze in the 1980s or puppy fever set off by the movie “101 Dalmatians.” In both cases, the pets proved more difficult to care for than many owners suspected.
“It’s a fad,” said Susie Coston, national shelter director for Farm Sanctuary, which rescues animals and sends them to live on farms in New York and California. “People are going to want it for a while and then not be so interested.”
She said that farm animal rescue groups field about 150 calls a month for birds, most of them involving chickens — especially roosters.
“We’re all inundated right now with roosters,” she said. “They dump them because they think they are getting hens and they’re not.”