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For the Rest Of Their Lives

We were thrilled to welcome CTV News Ottawa to our sanctuary grounds this week to discuss backyard chickens. We wanted to share a behind-the-scenes peak at our interview and share information that didn't make the cut!

Chickens can live up to 15 years old. Their breed plays a large role in the longevity of their life. For laying hens (hens that have been genetically modified to lay eggs at an alarming rate), most will pass away from reproductive complications before their fifth birthday.

So, when people are considering adding chickens to their family there's a lot to consider if you're signing up for this commitment. Some of the things Craig and I planned for, knowing we'd be inheriting seven hens with our property:

  • What kind of health care needs did they have?

  • Who would be our vet? What would we do in case of an emergency?

  • Was the structure safe enough to keep away predators?

  • If we could no longer care for them, who would?

  • What would be the cost?

All these questions are things that dog and cat owners have considered and though of. Most times they're covered through the adoption process. However, with chickens, most people will purchase them from hatcheries. Half of all chicks hatched will be roosters, and since most bylaws exclude roosters this means almost certain death.

But, if you know Secondhand Stories you'll know we have 9 magnificent roosters, like Ezra pictured here, who were saved from slaughter. Ezra, like so many roosters, was surrendered to the Montreal SPCA because he was a rooster.

He is one of the lucky ones. Our local shelter, The Ottawa Humane Society, doesn't accept surrendered chickens. With only three farm sanctuaries in the Ottawa area, none us of which have the capacity to accept surrendered chickens at this time, there is no place left for unwanted chickens to go and ultimately they are killed.

Like the BYC owner who was interviewed by CTV. While her recent flock is said to be going to family, she's posted that roosters she hatched would be turned into soup if someone wouldn't take them. For every chick hatched, there ought to be an ethical obligation to think about the lives of the males who will be killed. Why do we see hatching chicks as any different than backyard breeding?

It's heartbreaking to see stories like this and not be able to help. But the responsibility of chickens shouldn't fall on non-profit and community-supported sanctuaries. Unlike shelters who receive a stipend from the city for stray cats brought in, we have to work tirelessly to fundraise for the care of our rescued flock.


If you or someone you know if considering backyard chickens please think about the following:

What kind of health care needs did they have?

A LOT. Every month we do a thorough health exam on each chicken to ensure we're proactively catching anything that might compromise their health. Laying hens will often have many complex medical emergencies because their bodies go through so much. Reproductive illness will inevitably occur. You may have to deal with Salpingitis, Impacted Oviduct, Egg Yolk Peritonitis, Reproductive Tract Cancer, Internal Laying, Soft-Shelled Eggs or Egg Binding. All of which can be fatal if not treated by a vet in time.

Who would be our vet? What would we do in an emergency?

There are currently no vets in the municipality of Ottawa that will see chickens. In order to provide proper health care for a chicken you must have access to a vehicle and be able to drive at least 30 minutes outside of the city. Exams will be around $100 with another few hundred for treatment options. If you have an emergency, you might be out of luck. None of the emergency hospitals see chickens either. You have to have built a relationship with one of the farm vets to have them do a house call or see a case after-hours.

Was the structure safe enough to keep away predators?

Prefabricated chicken coops, like the $200 ones you can buy from Peavy Mart, are not secure enough to protect chickens from predators. In our region fishers, racoons, rats, foxes, and more are all well known for breaking into improperly sealed coops and killing chickens. Free-range chickens must worry about hawks, owls, and in some cases cats and dogs, too. We've followed recommendations from Open Sanctuary to ensure our flocks safety is paramount. But, of course, that comes with a hefty cost. In our first two years we spent over $5,000 on each coop/run set, ensuring they were built in a manner that wouldn't compromise on the safety of our rescued chickens.

If we could no longer care for them, who would?

Almost every single one of our chickens have come from homes where they could no longer stay. In some cases the financial burden was too much, others it was lack of knowledge on the care needed, or maybe they were just born male. When you adopt a pet you generally think about who will care for your pet if you pass away or

What would be the cost?

Small Flock Ontario, an organization that advocates for BYC owners, estimates the average cost is $1500 to $2000, with the owner's cost per egg being $1.27. Our experience is that we spend an average of $2000 per chicken for their health care, food, bedding, and shelter maintenance costs. Yet, even from a publication that is not animal protection focused, the cost is far beyond the "food security" dream. We recognize many BYC owners are trying to avoid factory farming. The average Canadian egg farmer has 23,000 hens and they spend 83% of their lives in wire cages, not buying eggs from the grocery store is a net good, but we urge people who want a more direct connection with their food to grow spinach instead. Spinach has more fibre and protein and less and 48.6 times less saturated fat than egg.

In closing, we wish we had an hour long feature to talk with CTV about all the reasons the idea of backyard chickens is a dream, but not fit for reality. It seems more often than not the response to the above is "well, they're just chickens". But we know better and know they're not. Research has shown that chickens are highly intelligent and emotionally feeling beings. If we are to call them pets and want to keep them as such, they deserve the same consideration as cats and dogs. They deserve a life worth living. Not to be called pets and then threatened to turn into soup.


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