Retiring food animals, but what’s next?

August 21, 2012

In Portland, chickens that no longer produce eggs have a place to retire.

With all of the recent moves towards a more humane food supply – think Sysco, CKE, Kroger, Denny’s, Safeway, and more moving to eliminate gestation crates from their food supply, Burger King’s move towards cage free eggs and many more – it’s no surprise that the welfare of animals past their food producing prime, i.e. egg laying chickens and dairy cows is a concern of food involved people.

A story in the New York Times regarding “retirement homes for chickens” in Portland highlights this perfectly – as we look to increase the overall welfare and humane treatment of animals, it’s also equally important to be realistic and think about the feasibility of supporting all of the retired animals as potential pets.

The New York Times article highlights, Pete Porath, a self-described “chicken slinger”, who finds new homes for unwanted birds. Because chickens lay the majority of their eggs early in life and can live for about 10 years, this leaves countless birds every year that could potentially live as pets elsewhere. Porath “rehomes” 1,000 to 2,000 birds a year; most belonging to a unique subset he dubs “the Portland birds.” His operation is not just limited to chickens – he’s rehomed, ducks, turkey, quail and even peacocks. The policy in Portland is not to eat the chickens as well as a limit of three to each permit – but this is steadily changing. In 2000, only about 20 properties held permits to house more than three chickens. Today over 500 are allowed to do so.

Portland is a progressive city, and rehoming farm animals may not be for everywhere but here are some options. Chickens could be great additions to actual retirement homes as pets are know to be a healthy companion and support system for the elderly. Research demonstrates a link between pet ownership and lower blood pressure, triglyceride levels and more.

Another option, one that Porath is involved with, involves placing animals (specifically chickens in this case) on farms where they eat pests that bother other animals, turn compost, and keep grass down – sounds pretty useful!