by Mary Britton Clouse, Founder, Chicken Run Rescue

Things to consider before getting chickens.

Whether a fad or enduring change, living with chickens presents both opportunities and challenges to rethink our relationship with the most unjustly treated land animals on the planet. Will familiarity engender more respect for them as sentient individuals and reshape our behavior towards them or will they continue to be viewed as a means to an end at our whim?



Photo Copyright  © Mary Britton Clouse
The opportunity for ethical evolution lies in enabling us to learn first hand that chickens are intelligent, gentle, vivacious individuals who form lifelong emotional bonds with each other and other species. They are warm, silky and lovely to hold. Their genetics and instinctive behaviors are remarkably little changed from their prehistoric ancestors, the dinosaurs. Amazing.
They are primarily ground dwelling birds who are very home centered and can thrive in a typical urban backyard and home. They coexist happily with compatible dogs and cats and have life spans of 12 -14 years. Their wild relatives can live to 34 years. Chickens are better adapted to living with us as companions than their exotic kin, parrots, who suffer terrible physical and psychological stress in captivity.
A shift in critical thought about who is “food” and who is “pet” could mean a less violent world for the chickens and other animals trapped in a food production hell hidden from view (“free range” and “cage free” birds meet their factory farmed cousins at the same slaughter plants). Each year in the US, over 10 billion chickens suffer from intense confinement, cruel handling and painful terrifying deaths. Although they represent over 95% of the animals raised for agricultural and other purposes, chickens are excluded from protection of anti-cruelty laws, humane slaughter laws and laws that regulate experimentation. The challenge is to insure that people who think they are creating a more “sustainable” world understand the ugly realities of how much their eggs cost the birds.


Photo Copyright © Mary Britton Clouse

Daily egg laying is biologically unnatural and unsustainable. By the age of 2 years, hens begin to develop reproductive problems and cancers from incessant egg laying which is completely unnatural and it ultimately kills them. All domesticated hens have been manufactured for this trait by genetic modification and selective breeding. Because of the constant wear on her system, hens develop enlarged livers, and other vital organs and/or tumors. Often, the oviduct (a tube through which eggs pass from the ovary) disintegrates and the egg material ruptures into the body cavity and rots (egg peritonitis) and slowly poisons her. The pressure from enlarged organs and fluid build up prevents her digestive tract from functioning and she is literally starving to death. It is a horrible death.


Photo Copyright  © Mary Britton Clouse

University of Illinois researchers have been using 2 year-old laying hens (who have ovulated as many times as a woman entering menopause) as a model to study ovarian cancer. “The cause of ovarian cancer remains unknown, but one of the most prevalent theories is the “incessant ovulation hypothesis,” that suggests that inflammation associated with continuous ovulation leaves ovarian surface epithelial cells susceptible to malignant transformation. The observation that egg-laying domestic hens frequently develop ovarian cancer supports this hypothesis.”

Inconvenient Truth: for every backyard hen, there is a rooster killed or abandoned. Only hens are wanted for eggs. Roosters are the most cruelly treated sex of the most cruelly treated species on earth. Since they have no value in egg production, a quarter billion male chicks a year are disposed of at the hatchery- killed as soon as their sex is determined at a day or two day old. The unwanted males are suffocated in the garbage or ground up alive for fertilizer or feed or are sold for meat production. Unwanted baby roosters are often shipped as “packing material”. There are no laws to protect the chicks from any cost-efficient (read: cruel) method of disposal the producer chooses.

At a commercial hatchery, of 80,000 chicks hatched per week, 40,000 of them never see the light of their second day. Whether they are purchased by an individual or a corporation, directly from a hatchery or a local supplier who purchased them from a hatchery, the same industry benefits, and the roosters are killed. Hardly sustainable if you are a rooster. Chicks are transported in the mail and subject to heat, cold and food and water deprivation. They suffer and die in airline transport all the time.  Breeding always displaces existing animals who need homes.

Vet care is necessary and expensive. We spend on average $300 per year per bird. Avian medicine is a very specialized field. Not just any vet will do. Domestic chickens are all descended from wild jungle fowl native to a habitat that is spacious, richly vegetated, diverse and warm. The optimal temperature range for chickens is “Minimum Temperature 55° f (13°c) , maximum temperature 70°(F)” (21°c)* They need protection in cold weather. Below 32°f (0°c) degrees birds are uncomfortable and cannot maintain body temperature. Below 15°f (-9.4°c) degrees frostbite begins, and hypothermia increases. They need protection in hot weather. They can suffer heat exhaustion and death at temperatures over 85°f (29°c). No one would accept a dog’s ability to “survive” extreme weather as an acceptable standard of care.

Chickens in a non-native environment are defenseless against predators like Raccoon, Dog, Coyote, Fox, Mink, Opossum, Rat, Owl, Bobcat, Hawk, Snake, Weasel, Ferret, Fisher and Marten.
Urban animal “farming” is an extension of, not an “humane alternative” to, the institutionalized cruelty of mass production by supporting inbreeding for egg or meat production to the detriment of the animals health, beak mutilation, separation of chicks from mothers, mail order shipping, confinement, disposal of unwanted males and exhausted females whose egg laying has declined. Purchased by mail order, “poultry swaps” or from backyard breeders or feedstores, the birds ultimately wind up in the hands of people with no experience with animals, much less birds who require specialized care.
What’s a local food advocate to do? Veganics, also known as “stockfree” “vegan organic” and “plant-based,” is a form of agriculture that goes further than organic standards, by eliminating the use of products that are derived from confined animals and by encouraging the presence of wild native animals on the farmland. Factory farm, “organic small scale” or backyard farmer, all are extensions of, not alternatives to, exploiting animals for food.

hand and hand rescue me1

Photo Copyright  © Mary Britton Clouse

We hope that the human/chicken bond will evolve into one of companionship. Eating plants costs us nothing. Eating their eggs costs the birds their lives. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.
Copyright Article and Photos (as indicated) : Mary Britton Clouse Founder, Chicken Run Rescue

About Chicken Run Rescue
Founded 2001


Every year, domestic fowl, mostly chickens, are impounded by Minneapolis Animal Care & Control
and 5 Metro Area humane societies. These birds are victims of neglect, abuse and abandonment,
used for eggs, slaughter, fighting, ritual sacrifice, “nature lessons” or discarded after a hobby no
longer holds interest.

After their release from impound, Chicken Run provides the birds with love, shelter and vet care,
locates and screens adopters within 90 miles of the Twin Cities and transports the birds to their new
homes. Chicken Run Rescue is the only urban chicken rescue of its kind and depends entirely on donations and sales of art merchandise to continue helping chickens. There is a special need for rooster homes. Don’t breed or buy- Adopt! There are never enough homes for displaced animals. Why Adopt? Chickens are highly intelligent, gentle, vivacious individuals who form strong lifelong emotional bonds with each other as well as other species.

Chicken Run Rescue is on Facebook


Want to learn more? 

Mary Britton Clouse interview:

Backyard Chicken Trend Comes Home to Roost

You may also enjoy these two books:

Artist/Animal   by  Steve Baker    University of Minnesota Press
There is a chapter on the work of Mary Britton Clouse Founder, Chicken Run Rescue

Chicken    by Annie Potts   University of Chicago Press. (also available at some public libraries)


Articles in this series:



Last update October 16th, 2013 1:20 pm

One Response

  1. Teresa

    “Chickens need homes, not jobs” encourages a paradigm shift. Thanks for giving me new information and a different perspective on the commodification of chickens & their eggs.


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