Friday, May 17, 2013

Go ahead and call me Little Suzy Farm Girl

Sadly, aging chickens have never been a problem for us.
I can't post every day. I don't have enough to say! You would all get very bored. Yesterday I cooked the lamb filling for the Tunisian brik, but failed to remove the filo dough from the freezer in time so I didn't cook anything and had nothing to write about.

Today I do have something to write about. In the comments, Ida asked me what I thought about this impassioned post criticizing people who want backyard chickens -- but don't want to deal with them  once they stop laying. The owners no longer want to pay for the hens' upkeep, but are too wimpy to kill them. So they try to give them away. The author thinks this is bogus:

"There is absolutely nothing ethically superior – and quite a bit that is ethically dubious, if you ask me – about enjoying the benefits of a young laying hen and then turning over the care or slaughter of that hen to someone else once it stops laying.
That is not how animal husbandry works and it’s not how pet ownership works, and those are your two choices. I don’t care which path you take with your chickens, but pick one. Playing Little Suzy Farm Girl until it’s time to get the axe and then deciding you aren’t up for chicken ownership just doesn’t fly with me."

Well, it flies with me. First of all, if you can find someone who wants to adopt and feed your old hens, great. I don't see what's ethically dubious about "turning over the care" of superannuated chickens to someone who wants to take them. It seems like a win-win-win situation.

Or would be if these people existed. If they do, I haven't met them. The author is correct that when your hens stop laying, you will probably have to either suck it up and keep them on as expensive pets or kill them.

But unlike the author, I don't think there's any reason you have to do the killing yourself if you don't want to. What's the point? To prove something? To punish yourself? You kept chickens for eggs and probably gave them a really nice life, however short, and enjoyed their company and now that's over. There are people who will happily take those birds off your hands. I don't think turning the slaughter over to them is unethical. I think it's sensible. You're giving someone a flavorful stewing hen they will enjoy eating and sparing yourself an experience you won't enjoy having. The only loser here is the old chicken, but that was a foregone conclusion.

We've never faced the problem of aging chickens as they've all been eaten by bobcats or contracted fatal illnesses before they stopped laying. I don't know what we'll do if we ever find ourselves with a bunch of elderly hens. Probably keep them. I don't even pretend to be a real farmer.

P.S. I just read through many of the comments on the original post and someone makes the same argument I just did. The author responded very civilly and said she should have worded the piece differently. She objects to people who won't make the DECISION to kill an old hen. She doesn't mean they have to kill it themselves. So there's no real disagreement at all.

46 comments:

  1. You have a good point about old hens. I was given several 3 yr old Maran hens that had "stopped laying". I told the owner her hens were just molting and would start laying again soon.She did not believe me so I got the hens.One was a rooster and the rest started laying the next week. I think they were also egg eaters, I cured them of that with wooden eggs and oyster shell to peck at.They have been my best hens ever since. Heritage breed hens can lay for a long time up to 10 years. I have an English game hen that is about 6yrs. She broods in Feb and still lays eggs. Happy chickens make a happy farmer :)

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  2. That Silkie isn't dead, is it?

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  3. That's so funny that they thought a hen was a rooster!

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  4. Those are some truly handsome hens. How many do you have now?

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    Replies
    1. We're down to twelve. I think we've cycled through 50 or 60 chickens. Is it possible? Terrible. But things are finally stable.

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  5. Some of we fans are old hens but do not want to be kept around forever out of sympathy. I would rather be slaughtered, gently, by a stranger than by my next of kin.

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  6. Well, I was going to comment as Ruthlynn did. My grandparents were all farmers and kept chickens. The chickens do go through periods when they don't lay, but they generally begin to lay again until they are quite old. Killing chickens has never been a problem for me except that I am not very efficient at doing it. And it's messy, but not nearly as messy as killing hogs or steers. 4H kids often give their animals to other people to kill. There's nothing wrong with having a soft heart!

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  7. I would like to say that although I am in the camp of folks who wish you posted something every day, I think I feel this way BECAUSE you wait until you have something to say before you sit down to write. And when you do, it is well-considered, engagingly written, interesting and fun to read. Don't change a thing, babe.

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  8. Thank you SO MUCH for responding! I like your logic about the stew pot, and remember reading your posts about when you tried to butcher/eat did (and didn't) feel guilty about eating something you named. To be truthful, I really didn't realize that chickens had menopause! Lol! Great insights - awesome writing (as usual). :) Best, Ida (am I a "long time fan" yet? It has been a couple of years!) :)

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  9. Have you read Novella Carpenter's "Farm City"? I would love to know your thoughts on it.

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    Replies
    1. I loved that book. Did you read it?

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    2. Yes, I did, and loved it too. I loved that she recognized how out-there she was being and just kept on going -- the scenes of her and Bill dumpster diving for their pigs ("you have the best garbage in the Bay Area! Keep up the good work, Chris!") were laugh out loud funny. I read her blog until she had the baby and stopped posting much. (pause while I go and check out her blog again) eee! She's got a new book coming out!

      In other blogging connection news, David Lebovitz made something from "Burma" so I name-dropped you on *his* blog and tried to draw his attention to your sidebar. Don't quite know if he got it (I know he read your Burma summary because he commented back [! I felt so flattered]) or if he's just too modest to say anything, which I could actually see with him.

      Sorry, this is an exceedingly long response to what was a brief question. Will stop nattering on now.

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