Friday, May 3, 2013

CLUCK asks: Are Chickens Farm Animals or Pets?

At commission meeting after commission meeting (most recently in Manatee County from Commissioners DiSabatino and Benac) we keep hearing that chickens are farm animals and, therefore, cannot be pets. But it's not complicated, so we made up the following graphic summary.

When people talk about "farm animals" they are frequently flashing back to picture books they enjoyed as children in the last century. As kids we learned about picturesque farms as repositories of the diverse pantheon of domestic animals. On the farm the pig said oink, the ducks said quack, the cows said moo, and the rooster said cock-a-doodle-do. In those days farm animals were hard working -- cats lived outside and were "mousers", dogs helped with herding, security, or hunting.

Grandfather's Farm, illustrated by Rojankovsky

The farm animals shown in this book include horses, cows, rabbits
ducks, sheep, geese, pigs, turkeys, goats, chickens as well as DOGS and CATS!

But these complex compendiums of animal husbandry are now primarily historic nostalgia. Instead of diverse crops and livestock, most "farming" is now specialized with people focusing on particular species. Pigs are raised in confined animal feeding operations, milk cows on dairies, and chickens are raised by the thousands in battery cages for eggs (see top left picture above) or in long broiler houses.

Meanwhile as farming changed, our relationships with the so called "farm animals" started shifting. Once odor-supressing kitty litter was invented, cats were welcomed indoors. Mousing became secondary to companionship. Dogs that had lived in kennels or chained to dog houses came inside. Pot-bellied pigs were welcomed not as bacon on four feet but as pets.

A Google search for the compound term "pet chicken" brings up over 400,000 results. To see some pet chickens, click here.

Although the number of layer and broiler chickens being raised commercially dwarfs the number of backyard pet chickens, CLUCK suspects that number of people that own pet chickens probably outnumbers the number of chicken producers.

It is worth observing that  Susan OrleanMartha StewartAlice Walker, Julia RobertsPaula Deen and Tori Spelling are not farmers, agriculturalists or commercial egg producers. And it is not just women that have pet chickens-- add to the list Sam Neil, Teddy Roosevelt, John Cleese, William H. Macy, and Robert E. Lee. These are people (with the exception of Robert E. Lee who had to travel under challenging conditions) who could have any pet they want, or even a Michael Jackson style mini-zoo. They chose chickens.

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