Chickens Flood Shelters As Backyard Farmers Call It Quits

One shelter went from 50 surrendered chickens in 2001 to 500 in 2012

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Anthony Lee / Getty Images

From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, the idea of living off the land, eating locally and growing food are admirable concepts that appeal to many city dwellers. Unfortunately, urban homesteading often provides a romanticized view of farming providing the bounty without all the work. When an erstwhile farmer lays down his pitchfork and ignores the vegetable garden, nothing much happens. However when a chicken farmer gives up on the dream of collecting fresh eggs, a new home must be found for the hens.

Now, some shelters are reporting a dramatic increase in the number of chickens surrendered to them as urban chicken farmers – who were unaware of the work involved with keeping chickens – turn them over to people better equipped to care for them. “Many areas with legalized hen-keeping are experiencing more and more of these birds coming in when they’re no longer wanted,” Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States (which publishes a list of considerations for potential backyard chicken enthusiasts), told NBC News. “You get some chicks and they’re very cute, but it’s not as though you can throw them out in the yard and not care for them.” The Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minn., has seen a steady increase in surrendered birds with fewer than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012. Farm Sanctuary currently has 225 former backyard chickens waiting for new homes.“It’s the stupid foodies,” Mary Britton Clouse, the owner of the Chicken Run Rescue organization, told NBC News. “We’re just sick to death of it.”

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While some urban hen owners are willing to care for chickens, many cities allow hens, but not roosters — who are frequently barred from urban districts due to their propensity to crow and be aggressive. Unfortunately, when purchasing chicks, it’s notoriously difficult to tell the difference between hens and roosters, meaning some well-intentioned city farmers end up needing to find new homes for their roosters. Other problems can arise when farmers realize that chickens frequently only lay eggs for two years, but can live up to ten. Additionally chickens can attract pests like rats and can fall victim to predators including raccoons and even neighborhood dogs. Plus chickens, like other household animals, can get sick and rack up expensive bills at the veterinarian.

While chickens can be problematic for the uninitiated or unwilling, many others are committed to set up a backyard coop to gather fresh eggs in the morning. Rob Ludlow, who runs a website for chicken-raising enthusiasts and is the author of “Raising Chickens for Dummies,” told NBC that “it’s very rare” that people make such mistakes or underestimate how difficult it is to raise chickens. “Hundreds of thousands of people are realizing the wonderful benefits of raising a small flock of backyard chickens,” he said adding, “[They're] the pets that make you breakfast.”

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