by Angela O’Neill-Smith
There are very few people that would argue the fact: chickens are the most exploited animal on the planet. Every year billions of chickens live extremely constrained lives, in squalor conditions merely to face slaughter after only a few months of life.
Because the term “free range” is so vague and does not necessarily guarantee the humane treatment of chickens, animal advocates are delighted to witness the increasing popularity of many locals farming their own chickens.
It was during the 1920s with the development of vitamin supplements some farmers no longer believed it necessary for their animals to be outdoors — the supplements compensated for the nutritive value of sunlight. Approximately 20 years after the initial development of supplements, what served to further modify the way animals were raised was the development of antibiotics in the 1940s. Since the 1940s farms have been expanding to include as many animals as possible, in as little space as possible.
The controversial factory farms of today’s society are often criticized because of their treatment of animals. The good news is we can often find local farm owners selling fresh, free-range eggs in our communities’ farm markets.
By shopping at local farmers’ markets we not only support small businesses, which is great in of itself, we often times get to know the merchants who produce the products we purchase. Many times the stories we hear from local farmers, the tales they tell, are heartwarming and often serve to remind us the value in cherishing compassion in philanthropic acts, such as humane farming.
I eat about a dozen eggs a week and I take great pride in knowing Phil and Teresa Rose of Charlestown, Rhode Island. They live with their son Jackson and their black Labrador Retriever Roxy in a charming log cabin, and coincidentally they raise chickens.
When Phil and Teresa moved into their home there stood an old coop that needed repair. Phil and Teresa wanted to raise a few chickens to supplement their family’s egg consumption. So Phil began building a new coop during the spring of 2009, his coop was modeled after the original coop and upon completion they purchased 6 Ameraucana Chicks. Ameraucana Chickens lay ornate, green-shelled eggs.
As the chickens were maturing and settling into their new home Teresa was contacted by a neighbor who knew of three chickens that were living in less than ideal conditions. The chickens were living on a farm with a dog that was tormenting them and desperately needed a new home. So as Teresa proudly shares the story of her chickens she introduces Clara, Gloria, and Henrietta, their three rescue chickens, “we integrated them right away with our adolescent chickens and they got along like old friends.”
It is remarkable that Phil and Teresa’s chickens get along so well. We all are familiar with the adage, “pecking order”. The saying originates from chickens as it is not unusual for chickens to fight and harm each other when new chickens are introduced to the coop. They will fight until a new pecking order is determined.
Teresa did not expect that Clara would survive the first winter after they adopted her, “Clara was pretty beat up when she arrived. She had no feathers on her head or rear and was very skinny; she was the slow one so she got the most abuse from the dogs.” By spring Clara was healthy and ready to explore, she started escaping from the enclosure and would wander around the yard.
Phil and Teresa had her wings clipped hoping that would discourage her from escaping. She continued to find her way out of the enclosure and roam around the yard. It did not take long for Clara to become the favorite. She liked being a part of the family and loved to follow everyone around the yard; she would often compete with Roxy their dog for attention and insist on being petted.
22Today Phil and Teresa have 27 chickens. Clara, she never laid suitable eggs, and Gloria and Harriett have passed their prime egg-laying days. “We talked about getting rid of Gloria and Harriett when they stopped laying, but then quickly changed our minds. We couldn’t give them up, they are our pets and we love them”, said Teresa. Sadly one of the rescue chickens, Harriett, passed away last year and was buried in the back yard. Teresa explains how “Gloria gets upset when new birds are introduced to the enclosure and gives them a hard time at first, she is the old lady of the coop and keeps the young girls in line, but overall they get along rather well. Clara still roams the yard. In fact we have about eight or nine girls roaming the yard every day. We don’t bother with clipping them anymore, since they find a way out.”
So many happy, healthy chickens inevitably leads to lots of delicious fresh eggs, about 18-19. After the winter molt it is expected that 27 chickens will be laying eggs. So Phil and Teresa are expecting about 24 eggs a day. “We can’t possibly eat all those eggs so we give them to friends and family. We are thinking about getting more chicks this spring, but that would mean building a bigger coop. So we’re still undecided”, they say.
When visiting Phil and Teresa you quickly recognize that each chicken has its own unique personality. And on their small farm in Charlestown, Rhode Island chickens are valued as living creatures who contribute to the family’s wellbeing; both nutritionally and in the pride of humane farming.