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Back yard chickens provide alternative to cruelty

Back yard chickens play with the dog and run free. Commercial hens hardy move and wait to die.
Back yard chickens play with the dog and run free. Commercial hens hardy move and wait to die.
by Laurel Montgomery; used with permission

Urban homesteading is on the rise in the US, and in Denver, the movement has been met with enthusiasm. Among the most popular parts of urban farming are back yard chickens. Animal welfare advocates have long criticized commercial egg industry for their encouragement of cruelty to laying hens.

Commercial chickens cramped together have their beaks cut off and stand in their own waste
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Commercial egg-laying hens are said by animal activists to be among the worst-treated of all animals used for production of food for humans. They are confined to cramped spaces, forces to sit and stand (if they are able to stand) in their own feces. Many have their beaks cut off with pliers. The hens are killed as soon as they can’t lay eggs at a specific speed. Some spend their entire life in a cage no bigger than their bodies.

Back yard chickens provide a humane alternative for those who love eggs but hate cruelty. The birds can run free in the yard throughout the day and their owners are free to provide their chickens with much-larger living space. The birds lay eggs at their leisure and double as fun pets to many who own them.

In late 2011, Denver legalized back yard chickens, and by mid-2013, over 400 households had licensed chicken coops, the Denver Post said. Since then, the suburbs of Broomfield and Lafayette also started permitting back yard chickens. In both cases, the debate was divided but the majority support was there. Brighton, Lakewood and Highlands Ranch also permit chickens.

In most cases where chickens are permitted in Metro Denver, slaughtering is not permitted on site, nor is it permissible to keep a rooster. But most people raise chickens for eggs and companionship. Those who slaughter birds would likely rely on mobile slaughter houses, a relatively new concept that was actually created by vegan activists, or transport them elsewhere.

Eggs from these truly-cage-free hens are also attractive to folks who want to eat healthy, natural, high-nutrition diets. The eggs form these birds have less cholesterol, less saturated fat and reportedly have up to 40 percent more of the healthy, Omega-Three fatty acids that are essential for proper nutrition.

Chickens that dwell outdoors eat a truly natural diet because they get more than their feed. The feast on earthworms and other worms as well as insects, and that high protein in those bugs helps enhance every nutritional component of the eggs they lay. The eggs from backyard birds have characteristically-orange yolks, as opposed to the typical yellow yolks you’ll see from eggs laid by factory hens.

Factory hens, more and more, are fed an “all-vegetarian” diet. There reasons why are debatable. Some say consumers are repulsed by the idea of birds raised for meat eating meat, including other birds, or even eggs. “Vegetarian” chicken feed often includes soy protein to compensate for the lost proteins hens don’t get since they can’t go out in the yard and eat bugs.

Even “free-range” chickens on a commercial farm don’t get the opportunity to dine au-naturale. The only legal requirement for the “free range chicken” label is to have the birds not be in cages and have access to a door in the coop. These birds are usually crammed into a building where they can still barely move and stand in their own feces.

Because they are still cramped together, they will likely fight with one another and therefore have their beaks lopped off with a pliers by hurried workers. They will likely be killed in a most-brutal manner, possibly hung by their feet and sent down the inverted conveyor to have their throats cut or boiled or electrocuted while still conscious.