Keeping Chickens


Jan 21, 2016
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  1. Vegan newbie
Please let me know what you think of this. Would it be very bad if I kept a couple of hens for eggs. They would be able to roam free as I have a large plot. I would not have them to eat but for their eggs. I have a friend who keeps chickens who could let me have two or three hens. They would have a good life but I would have the eggs. Does this make me sound very bad. If they stay where they are my friend will have the eggs but he will eventually kill them to eat them. They would be well cared for and I suppose they would be more like pets. Please let me know your thoughts on this. :confused:
Again, eating fish or eggs does not make you vegan but pescetarian. I recommend that you update your current profile diet category. Instead of simply rebuffing your question, I will address every issue it poses.

Firstly, lets not forget how the egg industry operates regardless of how you imagine you would keep your own chickens:

So, your first task would be to make sure that no form of monetary support goes towards this cruel industry however small or initial. Where were your friend's first hens born? Are you confident that it wasn't a hatchery?

Secondly I think it is important to really understand what an egg is: it is the potential for life. By destroying it, by keeping female hens separate from their natural mates (imagine the same being done to you - being forcefully segregated your whole life), we can in no way be acting on vegan principles. Eggs are essentially the product of the birds' equivalent of menstruation. Your keeping hens would be to exploit their natural facility to procreate and yet never allow them to brood. And hens are meant to brood - they are not emotionally detached from their eggs... even those brutalised by the egg industry and later rescued will quickly rehabilitate this connection.

The painful process of egg-laying partially explains this (graphic):
Which I'm sure is why this hen is very vocal about her delight at her new lay:

The process of removing the eggs from a brooding hen is a distressful one. These animals are unable to distinguish the difference between fertilised and non-fertilised eggs. So, as far as she is concerned, you would be taking away her chicks. She will continue to lay as that is her evolutionary instinct - to procreate - and yet you will continue to take this away from her. That is what she will experience. The devastating fact is that, eventually, an egg-laying hen who is unable to brood will reach a point where she becomes distressed if her eggs are not collected from her regularly - she will learn to reject these eggs - such is the psychological trauma. People who consume eggs are essentially training these birds, for profit and taste, to reject their own biological function at a most basic and evolutionary level.

Albumen, 'egg white', is the nourishment that feeds a growing chick - the equivalent of a placenta. The black dot you see on or in the 'yolk' - or, really, the ovum - is the genetic nucleus carrying the mitochondrial DNA. To be vegan is to begin to break the human/animal divide. It is vital to realise what an egg really is and to reclaim the proper language. For me there are few things in life as violating as intentionally cracking an eggshell. The act itself is a very, very destructive one when you imagine the disconnection between the genetic material that spills out... into a frying pan? The idea of eating human eggs like caviar repulses us - the fact that we see roe and 'scrambled eggs' as any different is a measure of how disconnected we have become in an age when this kind of consumption is unnecessary to our survival. Do we honestly have a right to purposefully breed another species into a state of constant dependence? Is that not one of the reasons why our presence is now being called the Sixth Extinction on Earth? Let us not forget that keeping chickens for eggs is a less sustainable method of producing a food source than eating plants. The water consumption, resources, feed, amount to a much larger impact on our collective natural resources when it comes to keeping animals for any agricultural purpose. Whilst I would applaud your attempt at locavorism, to use your garden plot for the purpose of growing edible plants would be far more efficient. There is, however, the matter of rescuing these birds from your friend before they are prematurely killed.

So, would you allow your hen to brood? What would you then do with her chicks, if she had males? Would you guarantee their lives even though they would not be able to supply you with 'eggs'? Can you commit to providing the space and resources? To return to breeding - how has your friend controlled their pedigree? Do you realise that a wild chicken lays far fewer eggs (over 25 times less) than one that is over-bred for production and that the consequence of this, however she is looked after, is a shortened lifespan (around a fifth of what would naturally occur - up to 30 years that is) as well as a greater risk of reproductive disease? That another by-product of this over-breeding is resultant in these hens having weaker bones, leading to more fractures, because the constant process of egg-laying requires huge amounts of calcium that their bodies cannot naturally support. The leading cause of death in such hens is reproductive disease. As for veterinary care, we must also be wary of the over-use of antibiotics in an already disastrously resistant world which costs our health services millions upon millions to try to contain. Especially if we are continually putting this into the 'food chain'. These are just a few reasons why keeping 'backyard chickens' is not generally a concept that empathetic humans can support.

Author Charles Horn points out, “If the desire is there to eat the eggs, did that consciously or subconsciously go into the decision to adopt in the first place? If so, the intention was never just one of providing refuge; it was also one of exploitation.” Therefore it is not a 'win-win' symbiosis between keeper and hen. It is therefore incorrect to say 'in exchange for this I am providing a "good" life'. There can only be complicity with the forceful re-engineering and exploitation of another being's reproductive system. The primary purpose of females, no matter what species, is surely not simply to engage in reproductive activity? Amongst humans we generally express outrage at this notion.

It is not an exceptional relationship, it is an exception that invites exceptions. As this article points out:
“If it’s okay to eat, is it okay to gather and sell? Is it okay to adopt many chickens and make a business out of it? Again, we’re seeing how we still have a mindset of exploitation here and just how easily the slippery slope can lead people toward animal agriculture. If not them, someone else surely will, because the mindset of exploitation is still there.” [...] The popular notion that it is wrong to waste chickens’ eggs by not eating them is based on the presumption that their eggs are actually ours to waste, further reinforcing the anthropocentric notion that the eggs belong to us, not them. So, based on this logic, if we discover abandoned and unfertilised turtle eggs or robin eggs, we are also compelled to steal them and make a meal out of them so as not to let them “go to waste.”

Chickens are intelligent creatures
. But even if you don't hold stock in this idea, the way we treat others has to be formed on a basis of sentience, not intelligence. Thankfully we are a society that is tolerant, for instance, toward the mentally disabled. There is no precedent for professors of the world's elite universities in deliberately inflicting harm amongst people below the status quo. So we're really only talking about speciesism here, because chickens are sentient and social beings: they can feel pain and they know joy too. They possess a maternal response to distress. They can even boast long-term memories. If you're OK with speciesism then you do have to realise that you are saying to yourself 'I do not mind living with and holding onto this prejudice'.


If we really want chickens to have 'a good life' we can no longer be a part of an ignorance that contributes to their over-breeding and subjugation (forceful dependency). All we can do is rehabilitate these animals, rescue them, and try to offer them the life they would more naturally lead so that they can - over generations - re-wild themselves. So if you are interested in providing a few hens with this, then I'd encourage you. I would encourage you to rescue them from your friend so that they are not prematurely killed. Doing so would not make you a bad person in the slightest, but a very good one. But to be really compassionate we must not only expect nothing in return, we must demand of ourselves to take extra steps to make right through re-socialisation and other means. So you will need to think very carefully about the kind of life you will provide these birds. I don't think it is enough to say 'well, at least they are not dead' because that same justification is routinely given to the young male calves (however they are raised) who are 'allowed' to live for a mere six months longer, for veal, rather than being killed on the day they are born.

Further reading:
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Hi winter.frost thank you for your reply. Yes I have read a lot on the internet too that is why I decided to stop buying eggs. My friend got his first hens when he bought his property and they had been left behind by the previous owner so I don´t know where the original chickens came from and nor does my friend. I wouldn´t be getting a cockerel just hens. I wont be eating the hens they will live with us until they die, hopefully from old age. Do you think that it would be better for me to just leave the eggs then to rott away in the nest?
You have made me feel like quite a bad person for thinking about doing this.
I had all my rescue dogs which were living on the streets and would have surely met an horrific end nutered and spayed do you think that I should have left them to to live as nature intended and not mess with their reproduction either. I think after all these years we would have ended up with thousands of dogs by now.

Perhaps you are right maybe I should update my profile to pescetarian and not vegan. I am new to this and just starting out. It is support that I need not to feel that I am a bad person. I know what goes on in the food industry that is why I am trying to change myself. If I didn´t care I woouldn´t be on here. I wonder how many people just give up. I wont be giving up but perhaps I need to take things a bit more slowly. :pensive:
Hi Sunflower,

There's a very deep issue here. If the facts make you feel uncomfortable this is not necessarily the fault of the messenger - the very fact that they make you uncomfortable tells us something. I generally hold the belief that people can decide for themselves once they are given the fuller picture. So that's simply what I try to do - give people all the facts I know... it is then up to them what they do with it. I personally tend to think that withholding information is to be a bit patronising!

But this is also a vegan forum so, here, we will always be looking for the very best solutions. I.e. to take on backyard hens in the best way would be to allow them to brood. If you are unable to let the hens brood, perhaps you know someone or somewhere that will facilitate this? Which would, naturally, be a better outcome for the hens than you taking them on if you cannot give them this. As for eating the eggs let's not forget that humans are not the only animals that consume eggs. There are plenty of other creatures, many of them wild, who would eat them too and have a far greater and natural reliance on them as a food source.

No, you are not a bad person. :) That is very clear and thinking about the welfare of other animals is a very good step. However it is also clear that you are not yet vegan. If you are still eating fish, I think your next goal should be vegetarianism. Vegetarianism without dairy is called ovo vegetarianism. Perhaps you can update your status.

It is very difficult to make an argument between one species we generally do not consume and another that we do. It throws up all sorts of other ethical issues. But it's an interesting one - perhaps for a separate thread? But, if you re-read my reply above, my suggestion is not at all to leave them 'as nature intended' because - at this point - their human dependency is very great indeed (and that is part of the problem). Re-wilding, however, is not a bad thing at all. Breeding out exploitative genetic traits we have forced upon another species is a good thing, even if it takes several generations of chickens having a hard time of it in the wild - it's leaving nature to readdress an imbalance. Whereas dogs are generally not preyed upon. There the issue isn't so much neutering as it is deliberate over-breeding (for profit no less) and cycles of neglect. When we face this pragmatic situation where neglected dogs are brutalised and often rabid then medical interventions is certainly an option - especially in an overcrowded or urban environment. That's just pragmatism. But it's not the long-term solution either - it's like trying to merely plaster over a sink hole.

So perhaps, for you, if you are unable to find a rescue service that will allow these hens to brood it will still be a reasonable step on your journey. Unfortunately, however, we are mostly vegans here so - like I said - we will always look for the best solution. I don't usually recommend this but I would counsel you to discuss your thoughts on a vegetarian forum - for the time being - which might well add as a better 'stepping stone' in the meantime. You will engage with other people taking slower steps and that might be of more help. But we will also be here if you have any further questions. :)

All the best.
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Hi winter.frost, thank you for your reply. As I have said before I am new to this and just starting out so need some advice and support not to be told that I don´t belong here. I do want to be vegan the hens/eggs issue was something I was thinking about and came on here to get some advice but I can see that from what you have told me to be vegan then it´s no eggs no matte what so that is good that is what I needed to hear. I have also been having some fish and know that I need to stop that also. I only started this two weeks ago so am still learning what I can and can´t have. I know I still need to do some more research but there is so much information out there it is a case of where to start. I don´t need lectures about how animals are kept/killed etc. I already know that, that is the reason why I am here in the first place. As you don´t think I belong here can you recommend somewhere that I would be welcome and where I would get the support and advice that I do need. I didn´t realise this forum was just for people who were already 100% vegan I was hoping that I could join to receive some help and support it is hard enough trying to explain to friends and family why I am doing this then to also feel like an outcast on here just makes me feel well I am not sure how it makes me feel but I wont be giving up.

If you think you belong here, you belong here. I have not said you don't but, simply put, if you are looking for somewhere to discuss keeping chickens I have tried to be helpful and suggest somewhere better. I have never said that you were not welcome. I have tried to expound the reasons why not allowing chickens to brood is not a vegan concept so that you can best choose for yourself (your repost suggested you were more keen on keeping them than not). If this irritates you then it only suggests that, like you said, you need to take smaller stepping stones. This is not a criticism - I am trying to help you get the best support for your journey. For instance if you were very interested in keeping chickens but not allowing them to brood then I would want you to get the support which I fear you would not get here as the active community here would possibly not know where to start. Please do not read into my 'fact giving' as an act of hostility. :) And I'm sorry if you feel 'lectured', but since I do not know you I have attempted to give you a good resource of information in one place.

It's best not to think about veganism in terms of what you can no longer have. There is, however, an ongoing debate about the use of non-vegan medicine (for instance any form of vaccination is not vegan because it has to be cultured in animal cells) which tends to fall down to the individual. I, for instance, do make certain exceptions when it comes to medicine.

But it is also worth stating that I'm just one person and I'm not trying to be over-opinionated I'm just trying to present you with what I know. :) And it's also worth remembering that there are no 'vegan police' and that we mostly do not regard ourselves as an ascetic subculture. The original definition of veganism, for instance, is...

a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

This forum is for everyone interested in veganism. Therefore you are most certainly welcome. I can only hope that you can see the confusion about reposting on the subject on not allowing hens to brood. I do think that your reaction is a little misplaced - I was only trying to get you to the right kind of support. If you think the right kind of support is here, then it's here! To be upset about such information is a good thing after all. So perhaps it is also a positive sign. Do try to see us as a support mechanism, not a place to be judged, especially when this is more about a matter of confusion.
Hi Sunflower, welcome to the forum. I wondered about eggs, and people often say to me that chickens lay eggs so why not eat them, Winterfrost has explained why not, so now I know what to tell them.

There is so much to learn and because it can be quite upsetting I find I have to take it in slowly. I went to a Viva Roadshow in September last year and went in a vegetarian and came out a vegan. I did not take baby steps because it's about the animals, I just stopped buying anything that involved animals, including wool.

This forum is excellent and Winterfrost has so much information, that I totally trust, that if you truly want to become vegan this is the place to be. There is lots of advice, website links, videos to watch, discussions to read that will support you. I think it is lovely that you want to rescue the chickens, but do some research first. Any questions then ask Winterfrost, she will help you.

Dogs are different, they would not have been bred for food and it is kinder to be spayed or neutered than to have their puppies taken from them. They are not dogs in the wild, but neglected pets. In an ideal world there would be no animals bred for food, sport or as pets. We give our pets the best life we can, but whether it's the life they would want is something we tend not to think about.

I hope you stay and keep us updated if you get your chickens. We could learn from your experience and maybe more of us could rescue some. :)
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That's very kind of you Sally, thank you. :)

Do stay if you have more questions sunflower.
Hi, thanks guys. I am feeling a bit better today I was feeling a bit defensive yesterday as I truly felt that I would be helping the hens and not hurting them. I have decided not to get any hens then I wont be tempted to take their eggs. I did my weekly shop yesterday and decided not to buy any more fish so that´s another step taken. I didn´t realise how difficult shopping would be as so many things have animal products in them e.g. milk. At the moment I think I must be eating more healthly than I have ever eaten before as I am not buying any processed food at all. I have found my weekly shop is so much cheaper too. I do need to get a good cook book though, something with quick and easy things to make. There are so many things I haven´t thought about such as vegan wine, I thought wine was ok but now I know different. Never seen any vegan wine in our area so no more wine for now. My diet just keeps getting more healthy. I do have one question what about bread. :)
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Congrats on taking the step to save the fishies!

You might still be able to help those hens. Do you know anywhere you could take them that would let them brood? It's really up to you. I don't think there is a clear right or wrong if it is death vs not brooding (my long post might have suggested I knew a definitive answer - but I don't!). Or even re-wilding them - harsh as that sounds, it's nature's way.

Yes before I went vegan I was lacto-vegetarian for a very long time (so plants and dairy, but not eggs). This was for all kinds of reasons, but I too remember the shock at finding just how prevalent dairy was in food - and in the most unusual places sometimes!

I know lots of recipe websites for vegans, but I haven't bought myself a cook book since I was a vegetarian. If you type 'recipe' or 'book' into the search function of this website (top right corner) it will chuck up lots of options.

As for the vegan wine this website is very useful indeed:
I do know lots of UK vegan wine vendors but none in Spain, sorry.

What's the question about bread?
In it's most basic form, yes.

Some breads, such as brioche, have added dairy. Other breads, such as scotch crumpets, often have added egg. You just have to check but eventually you will remember which breads tend to be OK and which aren't.

But bread is usually just made from strong flour, water, yeast, oil, and salt. Actually I make my own bread because I find the act of kneading the dough a very meditative experience. I try to make it first thing in the morning, fresh for the day, and it 'sets me up' to have a balanced mindset for whatever challenges that follow after. Really recommend it.
That's cool, but breadmakers do the kneading for themselves. You'll miss the tactile part. It's really easy to make bread (promise!) - I can have a new batch ready to prove in under 10 mins.

Anyway, my mother uses a breadmaker and I haven't been able to convince her to go without it either. ;)
Can you get oat milk? I've been using it so long now that sometimes I think I might have put real milk on my cereal by mistake, I have developed a taste for it. I have both milks in the fridge as my husband is not even a veggie. Although he is getting more interested, so there is hope.
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Hi all. As you may know, I like to keep resources in one place and I try to think about interested guests coming to the site as well as the posters on the individual threads (this is why I try to make my responses very thorough!). To this end I saw this new upload by Bite Size Vegan and it seemed like a good idea to repost. :)

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This is an old thread, but I want to address my feelings regarding chicken keeping.

I currently have 10 free range chickens.

We bought some from a store (bad choice, supports factory farming, and perhaps the killing of male chickens). I will never buy more from a store because of those reasons. We also bought some from two separate small farms in rural Michigan, where I live. 6/10 were bought that way. We bought them straight run, meaning no sex bias. These farms are not going to stop raising chickens. They do it as a self-sustaining practice to raise their own food. I feel that it's best to "save" chickens from these types of farms IF you sincerely want pet chickens. If you want to eat the eggs, fine. I started eating them, but now I can only eat about 1 egg every few months. You have to buy them for the sincere purpose of enjoying their company bc many will stop laying eggs young and you will have a lot of chickens not laying eggs... bc they can live long lives.

-Chickens are SO entertaining and fun to be around. We have 10 chickens who run up to us every time we get home and out of our car. They come running for treats and typically follow us around our yard anytime we are outside. It's so cute!
-All the normal pros of having pets. You have an animal to love. And chickens are awesome.
-Not all roosters are mean. We have 2 very nice boys we never have to worry about attacking us.

-You will probably have aggressive roosters at one point. They are very hard to deal with if you have young children and want to keep them free range. They kick you with their spurs and can cause large wounds. I had to get rid of 3 roosters after a good 6 months+ of trying to make them not-aggressive. I did not have enough hens for each of them to have their own flock. When you get rid of them, chances are high that they will end up on someone else's dinner table.
-Lots of roosters and few hens also equal rooster fights and hens being beaten up badly.
-Free range chickens get taken by predators occasionally and the loss really hurts.
-You have to feed, water, and care for them like all pets.

There are far more pros and cons (mentioned above in the thread), but these are the few I wanted to mention. I think keeping chickens is great, but if you can buy them from local sources or just pick up unwanted ones, that's the way to go. If you can't keep them free-range, I don't think you should get them. These creatures LOVE to forage around and take dust baths. It's hard to do that in a confined space. I have 4 acres for them to roam, but even a smaller grassy backyard would do.

My daughter is a chicken whisperer thanks to our chicken keeping. She can put chickens to sleep just by petting them. They will sit on her lap and sleep, even the young roosters.

I initially wanted chickens to help enforce the idea of vegetarianism and that eating "meat" would be like the same as eating our pet chickens. And how could anyone do that when we love them so much?