The Big Problem with Backyard Chicken Coops
I'm known in my friend group as the trendy one: I've mixed Mason jar cocktails while wearing dropped-crotch pants (and looked great in them, thank you), and I've made homemade apple cider donuts while sporting a Ray Charles-esque undercut hairstyle. But, as cool as I think I am, sometimes I completely miss a trend until it's on its way out. That's why, when I heard 2018 was the year of the chicken coop, I was taken aback — especially when I heard about the problem it's causing for animal shelters across the country.
Every year, the Associated Press compiles a group of lists for their Year in Review, which includes their yearly countdown of trends on their way out of the American zeitgeist. For 2018, The New York Times (via AP) reports that, in addition to gender reveal parties and vampire facials, chicken coops are likely to become less and less popular as the very real problem they cause grows.
The Problem with Backyard Chicken Coops
Animal shelters have been inundated with unwanted adult chickens. "What happens when hipsters can't cope?" asks Leanne Italie of AP. "According to news reports, the feathered puffs with legs get dumped at animal shelters, sanctuaries, or, worse, gobbled by some predator."
It seems that everyday folk, excited that residential chicken ownership is legal in their county or state, adopt chickens, perhaps mostly thinking about the benefits: the fresh eggs, the free fertilizer, the fact that hens are natural pest controllers, munching on grubs and pesky insects in their wake. The trend has been around for a while, too — people were buying tickets to chicken coop tours as far back as 2012, and the trend this year has reached the digerati of Silicon Valley, who have been keeping extravagant homes for their chickens.
But unlike the Zuckerberg-section of America, a lot of residential chicken owners might not be equipped to do (or employ others for) the work that goes into caring for these living things: the feedings, the grain costs, taking care of behavior issues (hens can be "broody," amongst other things), and illnesses. For instance, there's a pretty common chicken illness called "scaly leg mite," which adorably named chicken coop manufacturer Omlet suggests alleviating by soaking your chickens legs in "surgical spirit three times a week" before rubbing "vaseline on their legs" to cure. Residential chickens aren't just egg machines, they're living animals an owner needs to care for.
How Backyard Chicken Coops Affect Local Animal Shelters
That, perhaps combined with the fact that hens lay eggs less and less as they age, leads to owners believing they're doing the humane thing by dropping their un-slaughtered, unwanted chickens off at animal shelters that are typically only equipped for dogs and cats. As far back as 2014, the popularity of residential chicken coops had already been causing issues for animal shelters not equipped to handle fowl.
"Our shelter wasn't built for housing chickens ... sometimes we have to get creative," says a worker at Golden, Colorado, shelter Foothills Animal Shelter to the Denver7 news team. In 2014, Denver7 reported Denkai Animal Sanctuary had to turn away 100 chickens, even though their shelter is specifically equipped to handle them. Why? Because there was no room left.
As you may have guessed, as the trend grows, the problem grows with it, as is apparent at Minneapolis-area micro-sanctuary Chicken Run Rescue. The sanctuary — which maintains it's a "home," not a "farm" — has housed thousands of abandoned chickens since their inception.
"These birds are victims of neglect, abuse, and abandonment," CRR states on their website. "Discarded after a hobby no longer holds interest." A quick look through the current residents of the sanctuary — believe it or not — proves that these animals have personalities. We should give them a break.