NY Times cites the problems with backyard chicken trend

The NY Times had a story yesterday about the problems with backyard chicken trend, including disease, annoyance to neighbors and abandonment of chickens when the novelty wears off. The reporter likened it to the Dalmation trend after Disney’s “101 Dalmations” hit theaters.

This is a great article, if for no other reason than to highlight the problems of jumping into pet ownership without thinking.

I know, I know. Some of you put me in that category. I’m the one who added a dog and six chickens to my house in less than six months. But trust me, adding chickens to our funny farm wasn’t an overnight decision. (Well, the actual implementation might have been, but the thinking and researching wasn’t.)

To put your mind (and the minds’ of my neighbors) at ease, let me address some of the concerns raised in the article.

1) Disease – The story cites a run of Marek’s disease in the Bay Area. All of my chicks were vaccinated before they left the hatchery, on the advice of Joyce the Chicken Goddess, who gave me all the information I needed about Marek’s and convinced me that a cheap vaccination was worth every penny. As for other disease, a little reading about chickens has taught me that I need to be cautious about the chicks, the same way I have to be with the dogs. What they eat, where they hang out. Sure, I expect them to get worms or parasites, but that’s just part of the fun of having pets. If you follow along with the dogs’ blog, you know we’re at the vet all the time.

2) Predators and invaders – We are already overrun with squirrels and chipmunks in our neighborhood, and have a hungry falcon who feasts on the sparrows in the bird feeders. We have a groundhog, raccoons and a host of feral cats. (And if you believe some of the other folks I’ve talked to, fox and deer. And if there are rats, I’m sure they’re probably already here, making home at the neighbor down the street with the junkyard in his backyard. It’s like Sanford and Son over there.) If there are critters, trust me: they were here before my chickens. And we’re already preparing. The coop will have a totally enclosed run, both to keep critters out and keep the hens in. Not that they can’t get out; we thought we’d finally got Bandit secured in the yard like Fort Knox, and this week he just bolted through the fence and took off on an adventure with Killian, Flow and Brigitte’s dog. Pet ownership is not an exact science. But we’re taking every precaution we can.

3) Nuisance and noise – MyPetChicken.com assured me that my chicks are all hens, but yes, there isn’t any exact science. All we can do is hope for the best. If in fact I end up with a rooster, we’ll deal with it. But I’m not going to just drop it off at the shelter; I’ll find a farm willing to take it. Or, God forbid, we’ll eat it. (OK, I lied. We definitely won’t eat it.) And here’s a myth buster: hens can crow. That’s what I read. But generally they’re not any noisier than the dozen barking dogs on the street or the screeching blue jays or drilling woodpeckers that add to the cacophony of noise in the neighborhood.

The important thing to remember when you add any living thing to your family – dog, cat, bird, hamster, or even chickens – is that you’re making a lifetime commitment to the animal. You deal with the good and the bad. You enjoy the warm fur in your bed on a cold winter night or the fresh eggs on your table, and you fork over the big bucks to pay for vet bills, food, toys, vet bills, new fences, training, licensing fees, replacing your daughter’s shoes, and more vet bills.

If you can’t deal with the problems, then you should not have a pet of any kind. Get a plant.

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