Should people have “backyard chickens?” It’s Complicated.

Keeping chickens and other farmed animals, such as pot-bellied pigs, has become increasingly popular over the past few decades. But unfortunately, purchasing these animals on a whim has led to a homelessness crisis for them, meaning many are abandoned, neglected, abused or killed because of a lack of homes.

Oftentimes, well-intentioned people purchase chickens for their companionship, eggs, or even so-called “humane meat.”

Humane societies and sanctuaries, including SASHA, are constantly inundated with requests to take chickens formerly kept as pets. The need for safe and humane homes for one-time backyard chickens is overwhelming and this crisis begs the question, should people be buying and keeping chickens in their backyards?

Chickens are smart, curious animals who enjoy spending their time in groups perching and roosting in trees and straw, rooting in dirt and grasses and exploring their surroundings. Chickens have their own languages and unique likes, dislikes and personalities.

Dozens of chickens live at SASHA including some rescued from factory farms and others from a cock fighting operation.

Unfortunately, many of the chickens destined to be kept as pets are purchased from cruel factory farms. These mail order chickens are raised in intensive confinement and shipped far distances in boxes like things rather than thinking, feeling beings.

Additionally, many communities prohibit or regulate the keeping of chickens, limiting the size of a flock or the types of chickens someone can keep. Many cities prohibit the keeping of roosters, which means many are summarily killed at the hatcheries when they’re born or else abandoned or killed when they’re older. Many would-be chicken keepers scramble to place roosters because the animals were missexed and inadvertently purchased.

Humane societies and animal control agencies are often ill-equipped to help those mistakenly keeping chickens or roosters illegally or those who are no longer able to care for them. In order to provide the best quality of life possible for the chickens and roosters they already have, many sanctuaries, including SASHA, are unable to take in new chickens. This means that for those who rush into buying chickens, there is little help for them if they run into problems.

Animal sanctuaries, including United Poultry Concerns (UPC), encourage would-be chicken keepers to do their research and make sure they’re up to the task. Chickens require safe, clean, predator-protected coops and lots of space to roam and explore. You should also research the laws regarding keeping chickens and roosters where you live and always adopt, never buy, chickens.

You can find more information on the practical and ethical issues of keeping chickens and best practices for their care on UPC’s website.