As a farmer’s daughter turned urbanite, I brought my country ways with me. Living near the center of town on a 1/3 acre urban homestead, it was just a matter of time before chickens made an appearance in the backyard. Sure, there are daily chores, but there are also daily fresh eggs. However, I find myself asking the question, are my chickens, pets?
Growing up on a farm in rural Iowa, chickens were a part of life. Mom ordered chicks in February and we picked them up from the hatchery in March. Sure, they were cute, little, yellow, puff balls, but I knew they would be on our plate in the fall. Broilers and fryers, mom bought them by the dozens. There was also a small army of pure white Leghorns, otherwise known as ‘egg laying machines’. After eighteen months, they too, were destined for the supper table.
So the question I ask is, how do you know when your chickens move from livestock status to pet status? Personally, I have a set of criteria where it can be argued that chickens are pets.
For starters, when you name your chickens, it is likely that your chickens have become pets. Growing up on a farm, we NEVER named the chickens. It simply wasn’t done. You did not name something you were going to eat. It was easier to pick out a chicken destined for the chopping block when it was just ‘chicken’ rather than grabbing ‘Bob’ out of the flock.
Next, if your chickens are allowed in the house, chances are they are pets. Now as someone who grew up taking care of chickens, I am familiar with their habits, and one of their habits is pooping everywhere. What I mean by this is that chickens are not like cats and use a litter box or just use one location as their toilet. Wherever chickens wander, you can be sure they will leave a trail of ‘chicken nuggets’ as my husband calls the detritus. Chickens were always deemed an ‘outdoor’ animal and were simply not allowed in the house.
If you dress your chickens in bonnets, capes, the latest knit wear, or diapers… chances are they are pets. They really don’t need clothing, but that is your choice. And diapers? If they are diapered, chances are they are allowed to free range in the house. And according to my criteria, house chicken equals pet.
Another pet criteria is, if a chicken is allowed ‘lap time’ or ‘shoulder time’, chances are they have moved into the pet classification. On the farm, chickens did not get cuddle time. Chickens were merely feed, given water, allowed time to free range, and their coop was cleaned… but picking up a chicken and stroking it? Nope. Never. No way.
And the last litmus test, if you don’t even consider the oven or stock pot as the final destination for you chicken, chances are it is a pet. Now some urban backyard chicken keepers may be bound by city ordinances where slaughter is not allowed. But on a farm or in areas without restrictive ordinances? Yes, even the egg layers faced a culinary destiny.
Now I am not here to say that all urban/suburban chickens are pets. Or that chickens as pets is completely unacceptable. It is a personal choice not bound by location, history, or law. But as a country girl turned urbanite, Hillary looks very cute on my shoulder.