Greyson the Rooster, in his pen at the Seattle Animal Shelter, as he waits to be re-homed at a local sanctuary. Photo by Christie Lagally
Greyson the Rooster, in his pen at the Seattle Animal Shelter, as he waits to be re-homed at a local sanctuary. Photo by Christie Lagally
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Coreena the Hen graciously allowed me to spend some time getting to know her when I visited the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) recently. She had laid an egg in a makeshift nest in the Critter Care room at SAS, and occasionally, she sat on it with pride. 

One of several hens surrendered to or rescued by SAS each month, Coreena has an unknown history; she was found wandering in a Seattle neighborhood. SAS waits three days for the chicken’s owners to claim their lost animal.

“It’s never happened,” said Killy Keefe, SAS’ Critter Care team lead volunteer. Keefe explains that, although plenty of chickens are found wondering Seattle, their owners rarely claim them.

Coreena was soon joined in her cozy kennel at SAS by two other hens. Keefe said that chickens are often surrendered because the hens are no longer producing eggs. Chickens only lay eggs consistently for two years of their lives; yet, they can live to be 10 years old. For surrendered hens, the onus is then on SAS to find the chickens new homes.

SAS spokesperson Kara Main-Hester said choosing a new home for a chicken means screening applicants carefully. Chicken adoption is a commitment to care for that animal for a lifetime, and chickens like Coreena are only adopted out to homes where they will be cared for as a pet, like a dog or a cat, and not be killed for meat.

“They need to be part of the family,” Main-Hester said.

In just a week, Sharon Miller of Whidbey Island adopted Coreen and her two hen sisters. Miller keeps hens and roosters as pets in small flocks on her farm.

“They have personalities like cats do,” Miller said of the unique nature of each of her 14 resident birds.

Miller’s vegetarian/vegan family keeps the chickens as pets, although she says it is a bonus to have a fresh eggs once in a while from her flock. Miller became a vegetarian after seeing a truck full of chickens being transported while stuffed in tiny cages. Naturally, Miller found this mistreatment incompatible with her love of these creatures. 

Only hens allowed in city

In Seattle, residents can keep only female chickens (hens); male chickens (roosters) were banned several years ago. Unfortunately, people purchase their chickens from local hardware or animal feed stores as baby chicks or purchase the chicks online, and at that age, there is no easy way to tell if you are purchasing a hen or a rooster. Residents inadvertently find themselves violating the ban on roosters.

“It’s been noticeably increasing in the last few years,” Main-Hester said, regarding the number of surrendered roosters to SAS.

This was the case with Greyson the Rooster, a glorious, tall, red-and-brown bird who was weary of surroundings at SAS. Roosters like Greyson are re-homed at local sanctuaries, instead of being adopted out to Seattle residents.

Although SAS is happy to re-home the roosters, indiscriminant sale of baby chicks to the public leads to shelters and sanctuaries having to provide short- and long-term care for these animals whose future was apparently not considered prior to purchase.

“People need to know there are consequences,” Main-Hester said, about the sale of baby chicks in Seattle.

Currently, the sale of farm animals is not regulated in Seattle, but Main-Hester said one possible solution is to ban the sale of roosters. Since it is difficult to determine the sex of chicks, perhaps it would discourage their sale.

An ‘unjust’ relationship

Sadly, the plight of chicks in industrialized hatcheries, where the vast majority of birds like Greyson and Coreena are born, is heartbreaking and unacceptable. Since only hens lay eggs or are raised for chicken meat, approximately 50 percent of the chicks born in factory barns are killed once they are identified as male.

In a recent undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals, a chicken hatchery in Canada owned by Maple Leaf Foods was found to be committing egregious acts of cruelty against baby birds. Undercover video shows employee flinging chicks by their fragile wings, scalding chicks with hot water and drowning them and shoving chicks into machines and grinding them alive.

Unfortunately, these atrocities are not specific to this one facility and have been documented by several animal-welfare agencies around North America.

Yet, there are easy ways we can change this unjust relationship that humans currently have with chickens. First, consider reducing your consumption of eggs and poultry to help save the 9 billion chickens that are killed every year in factory farms.

If you wish to house backyard chickens, be sure to “adopt — don’t shop,” much like the mantra to avoid purchasing puppies born in puppy mills.

Finally, commit to care for your chickens for their natural lifetimes in honor of their gift — not just of eggs, but also of spritely companionship.

For information on chicken adoption, visit www.seattle.gov/animalshelter.

To learn about advocating for chickens, visit www.mercyforanimals.org.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is the editor of “Living Humane,” a news site on humane-conscious lifestyles at livinghumane.com. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.