Friday, April 27, 2012

(Old) chickens migrate from urban to rural, but find no walk in the park

This New York Times story about what some Portlanders are doing with their laying hens as the hens age and stop producing eggs is still on the top-10 most emailed list at, several days after it was first published.    It's titled "A Place for Old Chickens, Outside the Pot," and it tells of how some urban chicken keepers in Portland are "re-homing" their older birds outside the city, as on farms in places like Estacada, 35 miles south of Portland, and Scio, farther south still, in Linn County.

One especially interesting angle on this is the "rural idyll," that many of the Portlanders project onto these "sanctuary farms" that accept the older chickens for their "golden years."  A woman whose husband owns one of them describes city visitors "stroll[ing] through the garden, eating vegetables and food off the trees."  She continues:
I think it's one of these things when people have a vision of coming to our house and it's a park.  And they think, 'Oh, this is where my chicken is going to live.'  They want it rehomed here because they have a fantasy of a farm.
The man who runs the Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary in Scio, Wayne Geiger, describes the same phenomenon:
People think they got out to the sanctuary and they go skipping through the meadows and the fields are covered in daisies.
In reality, Geiger explains:
The reality... is that the birds must often be penned to limit breeding, cockfights and predator attacks.  He has suggested that cities retool their chicken-keeping policies to allow backyards to grow large enough to include aging birds.  Doing so would allow senior birds to stay in their coops while the youngsters continue laying.  
So, it seems, both the city and the country play roles in this 21st century agricultural dilemma.

Karen Wolfgang of Independence Gardens, who teaches a course to help "urban farms plan for a wholesome end for their chickens," offers this closing thought:
There's a pragmatic way of looking at it that's not necessarily the norm in urban settings.  Our relationship with the nonhuman world is complicated.  We did breed domestic animals to do what we need them to do, but what we need them to do is changing.  

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