Participants and organizations in favour of exploiting backyard chickens have been spreading misinformation and omitting critical information to better their case, and I’m here to set the record straight. Below we dive into one particularly troubling organization, Toronto Urban Growers, which is sharing dangerous lies.
TUG: "Protein can be difficult to grow in home or community garden plots. Keeping hens gives people access to an important protein source (eggs)."
SS: Spinach has more protein than eggs, is cheaper to produce, easier to grow, can be grown in small spaces and thus yields higher results, is more humane, and doesn’t pose a public safety risk from avian flu, salmonella, campylobacter or coccidiosis. We recommend growing spinach.
TUG: "Roosters make noise, but hens are quiet. Hens make clucking noises for a brief period of time after they’ve laid an egg."
SS: Our 6 rescued hens cluck for a variety of reasons. When they are happy to see us. When they get food. When they find bugs. When they’re experiencing joy. When they’re just feeling chatty. They squawk, LOUDLY, when they are concerned about predators or danger. Sometimes even if they’re just mad at a fellow flock-mate that is on the part of the perch they want to be on.
TUG: "Urban hens are kept safe from raccoons, foxes, opossums, and other wildlife through predator-proof coops and enclosures ("runs") that protect hens by keeping other wildlife out."
SS: We’ve seen several posts in online groups that participants' chickens have been attacked and/or eaten by hawks, raccoons and foxes. Additionally, there have been 118 stray chicken service requests and there was testimony at the committee meeting from two neighbors of participants in the program that the chickens had escaped multiple times.
TUG: "If there are more people requiring vets for chickens, more vets will take the training."
SS: We wish this were true. Before vet school you need at least 3 years of undergrad, then the 4 years of vet school. Veterinarians don’t really get much training in terms of chicken or exotic training during school. There may be some training in the large animal courses but it’s not “pet chicken” focused. There is no chicken speciality training, only general avian certification. The Veterinary Information Network doesn’t even have any online courses available for veterinarians on chicken education. Veterinarians must learn from other veterinarians and for companion animal or large animal vets who are already burning out is unlikely we will see an increase in the availability of medical care for our hens.
TUG: "Ban roosters, not hens. Roosters are not necessary for hens to produce eggs."
SS: Banning roosters is calling for their death. I would urge you to read this article written by the Montreal SPCA who does accept surrendered backyard chickens which outlines the brutality of eliminating unwanted roosters. Unless a chick is what is called a “sex-link”, which produces different coloured male and female chicks, it is near impossible to confirm the sex of a chick. One of chickens was surrendered by a breeder who thought their four month old chicken was a blind hen. Ellie is a rooster. As per UrbanHens TO Pilot Program, it is believed that an owner should know the sex of the chicken by this age. Our experience proves that even a breeder cannot be certain of the sex. We have received countless requests to accept roosters who need to be re-homed by stupid rules like this. I mean, is there any other species we would ever advocate for killing the gender of? There would be uproar if male dogs were banned. It's speciesist at best and wildly ignorant.
TUG: "Keeping backyard hens provides a measure of control over the source of one’s own food (in much the same way as other urban agriculture practices do) and thus contributes to food security and food sovereignty. Almost 20% of Toronto households are food insecure, and food insecurity disproportionately affects marginalized and racialized communities."
SS: So, we’re talking about the 97% of UrbanHenTO participants that make over $100,000 a year and the 40% that make over $150,000 right? The participants that must own their home with a backyard big enough to house an appropriately sized coop and invest in that coop. Plus have savings for food, bedding, veterinary care and other expenses. The participants who would need to invest approximately $3,000 a year in chickens to get up to 1000 eggs. $3 an egg for $100k households sounds like a really great way to tackle this issue. We suggest advocating for community gardens where fresh produce can better address this.
TUG: "Backyard hen-keeping is a practice that can educate children and adults about where their food comes from."
SS: Most eggs come from factory farms. Using backyard hens for education is an unrealistic and false portrayal of our food system. There is a fantastic alternative though: Farm Sanctuary offers a FREE library of pre-recorded presentations about the lives of farm animals. Recordings include accompanying worksheets, coloring sheets, as well as discussion questions and writing prompts for 5-12th grade classes.
Well, TUG. We hope you learned something. Thank you for publishing your interesting opinions so we can be aware of the misinformation being spread and have this opportunity to use your assumptions as an educational opportunity!