Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)


So on our Baltimore foodmakers discussion board, there was a conversation between several people who own city chickens. Some love their birds as pets, and have adopted them from shelters and feed the eggs to their dogs for feed supplements or to friends. Others view their birds as livestock and have no problem butchering a bird once it is finished laying, rather than feeding it as a pet.


Our local news channel WBAL just aired a news segment last night about the growing popularity of chickens in Baltimore, so the discussion seemed particularly apt. As more and more people start raising animals, we are forced to confront the idea of where meat really comes from.


So I was curious to hear from all of you non-Baltimore homegrowners, where do you fall on the issue?


How do you decide the balance between chickens (or other livestock) as pets or as food?


This post has been adapted from the original post at www.baltimorediy.org. Click on the link if you're interested in the link to the WBAL news story, reading the original quotes from the Foodmakers discussion, or the exotic pet regulations in Baltimore City. I didn't re-post here because of too much cutting and pasting!


Views: 542

Comment by Caroline Malcolm on July 14, 2011 at 12:08pm

Hi Aliza,


This is really interesting question.  I raise chickens at home, and they are definitely part of the family's flock.  Especially when they are chicks! Who can resist those little chirping balls of fluff?! But, as they mature to laying age, the chickens are moving outdoors and adapting to their coop.  They still try to come in the house and run to us when they see us coming, and we love their personalities. 


While we got the hens for their eggs, we think of them as pets, lumping them in with the dog and cat.  My dad grew up raising pigs, chickens, and other livestock for slaughter, but never had us doing that...maybe because of the very blurry line between livestock as pets and as food.  He claimed that they didn't name their livestock, and took care of them until it was time to slaughter, realizing that they are a necessary part of sustaining human life.


I grew up vegetarian, by my own volition, partly because I couldn't bear the thought of meat being coming from lambchop and piglet.  But, now I know how vital it is and how humane and sustainable production can be.  So while I keep chickens as pets, I know that they produce food for us.  That still doesn't mean you can have fun with your pet hens! 

Comment by Rachel Hoff on July 14, 2011 at 12:24pm

I wrote a post about this awhile back because we do raise animals for meat. I personally don't have a connection on that "pet/companion animal" level with chickens or our ducks for that matter. I do enjoy our turkeys more though, but even they aren't really pets. At least not like our dogs and cats are. I'm pretty "meh" about the rabbits. I enjoy our breeders, but their offspring still fall into that livestock category. The goats are a different story though. One of our goat kids is definitely on that "pet" level. But I also have to realize that our current kids are not pets and are for meat. That will be hard but it is a necessity. At least, for now, while they are with us, they can enjoy getting spoiled like pets.

Comment by Erica Strauss on July 14, 2011 at 12:39pm
Personally, I took on chickens because they produce eggs and manure. They are fun to watch, but they are not pets. When my hens come to the end of their laying production, or if a chick  ends up a cockerel instead of a pullet, I have no compunction about culling that bird and using it for soup, stock, etc. I understand people think of their hens as pets and that's fantastic, I just am not willing to maintain the feed and upkeep of non-laying birds.
Comment by rachel whetzel on July 14, 2011 at 1:20pm
I just wanted to say that even though I butcher our chickens and goats, the decision did not come lightly. It's not that I "have no problem" with it. It's not something I like to do, whether I've named them or not. I have decided however, that if I am going to continue eating meat, I want to know that the meat I eat has lived well, was loved, and died with as little stress and as much dignity as I can give it. Knowing that with certainty means I have to know my farmer well. In my case, I AM the farmer.
Comment by Aliza Ess on July 14, 2011 at 2:08pm
Thanks for all the feedback everyone! Caroline, I like you am a lapsed vegetarian (my folks are vegetarian and I actually didn't even eat steak until I was in college... and realized how delicious it is. So I don't need meat in my meal to feel satisfied, but sometimes it sure it hard to say no to that delicious flank steak taco or whatever!) I guess that we as homegrowners are all kind of on the same page that meat is a choice for people to make, but we don't have to take the decision lightly, as Rachel says.
Comment by Aliza Ess on July 14, 2011 at 2:12pm
By the way, Rachel, I may need some of your advice on dealing with rabbits! I can't stop cuddling our newest rabbit even though I know it's going to wind up as meat. And a local restaurant has said they will purchase as many rabbits as we can provide, so now my gentleman is all gung ho about breeding. But I'm still nervous about butchering day! The chickens didn't bother me, but for some reason the ducks and the rabbits...  I keep telling myself that the animals die on their own in usually worse ways (like the baby ducks and bunnies that were crushed by their own mamas). Whew, I guess braised duck and rabbit has got to be yummy if it's got me meditating on death and murder!
Comment by rachel whetzel on July 15, 2011 at 6:52am
If I am the Rachel you mean, I haven't taken the step in Rabbits. Although we raised rabbits for meat when I was a kid. My dad took care of the butchering. I have rabbits, but I took them if for a friend, and they came with an immunity idol. (Survivor mention... sorry if you don't watch the show... means I promised I won't butcher them.) lol So I have them for the purpose of enriching my garden's soil with their poo. I may eventually breed for meat tho. AND I do mention to them that IF the don't poo enough, they won't be useful to me. lol
Comment by Aliza Ess on July 15, 2011 at 10:34am
Hah, Rachel W. I thought that might get confusing... the Rachel from Dog Island Farm was talking about her rabbits :) Definitely haven't had a problem with the rabbits not pooing enough! Dumped a whole bunch in my garden in February and let it sit for a few months, the greens were doing great until this week's attach of the harlequins (as usual in mid-July). Bunnies and animals have definitely been useful eating all those insect damaged greens so that I don't feel the plants have gone to waste!
Comment by Rachel Hoff on July 15, 2011 at 10:58am
Aliza, Very cute bunny! I've been known to snuggle the one that survived (we had one doe only have 3 her first litter - 1 was stillborn, 1 died in a horrible heat wave we had). After they get bigger and are less cute it gets to be a little easier. That one we ended up naming Roly Poly. I liked her a lot but it came time where she had to go (I'm not really one to line breed so we couldn't breed her). The death is quick and painless, so it makes it less traumatic. It will get easier (though it's never easy), especially as your litters get bigger. We have 12 growing out right now - all of them are black so we can't tell the difference between them - so none are named and cuddling is very minimal.  
Comment by Aliza Ess on July 15, 2011 at 11:15am
Rachel- so if the death is quick, the rabbits don't scream? That's the part I've heard about that has me the most terrified.


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