Backyard chickens, the new animal welfare battleground

The popularity of backyard chickens, fueled by the "eat local" food movement has led to confrontations in towns and cities across the country between the pro and anti-chicken factions.

A proposal to allow chicken keeping in a suburb of Pittsburgh recently brought out a packed house, mainly filled with chicken supporters.

(Until recently you could keep a horse your Philadelphia backyard but not a chicken. There is still a chicken ban and horses are regulated.)

We knew the chicken raising craze had hit its apex when the upscale kitchen supply company Williams Sonoma started featuring chicken coops and accessories in its glossy catalog.

But the trend has led to a glut of hens and roosters across the country and many of them end up being dumped on shelters.

Unlike that pastamaker gathering dust in the cabinet, chickens can't just be packed up and stowed away. Caring for them requires a years-long, daily commitment of feeding, watering, providing health care, picking up eggs and -the most fun of all - cleaning up after them.

A recent NBC News report blamed a waning hipster fad for the problem.

“Many areas with legalized hen-keeping are experiencing more and more of these birds coming in when they’re no longer wanted,” said Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. “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.”

Chicken-keeping supporters say the problem is being exaggerated and that raising chicks can be a great backyard hobby.

At Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. though some 225 former backyard chickens are waiting now for new homes. They’re among at least 400 to 500 abandoned chickens that show up every year, including many suffering from maltreatment or illness, the national shelter director Susie Coston told NBC.

“They’re put on Craigslist all the time when they don’t lay any more,” said Coston. “They’re dumped all the time.”

At Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minn.,owner Mary Britton Clouse has tracked an increase in surrendered birds from fewer than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012.

Before you head over to your local farm store to pick up chicks because you think it would be fun to get breakfast from your backyard, do your research and consider the long term consequences of that delicious homegrown scrambled egg.




 (Photo/Niko Kallianiotis/ NBC News)