The following is a letter I sent to Denver’s Washington Park Profile in response to their front-page article on keeping backyard chickens:
I’m glad your July article on backyard chickens included the downside. Given the practical issues of daily care, humane concerns, and health consequences of eating eggs, is this something the city of Denver should be encouraging?
Often would-be urban farmers do not understand what they are getting into, as indicated by this from an NBC News report: “Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.”
Particularly in cities that have recently eased regulations governing backyard chickens, animal shelters have experienced huge increases in chickens, mostly roosters and older hens that no one wants. Problems begin even before the backyard enthusiast gets the baby hens, as hatcheries routinely slaughter millions of unwanted male chicks–often by being ground up alive, electrocuted, or thrown into plastic-lined trashcans. Chickens, having evolved in the tropics, are unsuited to Colorado’s cold dry climate and vulnerable to disease.
Often overlooked in the urban farming nostalgia are the considerable health consequences of eating eggs. A single egg, no matter how kindly treated its mother was, contains a whopping 186 mg. of cholesterol, 5 grams of fat, and no fiber. According to the Harvard Physicians’ Health Study, in which 20,000 doctors were followed for 20 years, those who ate even one egg a day had significantly greater all-cause mortality. Is eating that daily egg worth a shorter lifespan? Chickens also transmit salmonella, which according to the CDC causes one million foodborne illnesses in the United States every year.
Given these concerns, and more that I don’t have space to go into, for cities and neighborhood activists to encourage the keeping of chickens and the eating of eggs is like encouraging smoking. We can do better.