Friday, July 25, 2008

Are urban chickens really "pets"?

Is it accurate to call a small flock of chickens in your backyard your "pets?"

On the one hand, it seems easy to quickly answer "yes, they are." But if we're to honor the wisdom of the wiki-editors over at Wikipedia, a pet is:
A pet or companion animal is an animal kept for companionship and enjoyment, as opposed to livestock, laboratory animals, working animals or sport animals, which are kept for economic reasons. The most popular pets are noted for their loyal or playful characteristics, for their attractive appearance, or for their song. Pets also generally seem to provide their owners with non-trivial health benefits; keeping pets has been shown to help relieve stress to those who like having animals around.
When I see the main defining characteristic in the "as opposed to" list as being kept for economic reasons, my chickens fail the definition. But when I look at the characteristics of "the most popular pets" I see my own chickens fulfilling each one. And the health benefits of keeping chickens for the privilege of consuming their eggs can't be understated. At least until they're too old to lay. Hmmm.

More practically, it looks like the folks over in Clay, Alabama are struggling mightily with the issue of chickens as pets.
The city's low density residential zoning does not allow livestock but does allow household pets. The ordinance does not define household pets. Commissioner Debby Clayton said the Alabama Law Code does not define pets either and does not include poultry in livestock. In one section, the law says "livestock is defined as equine or equidae, cows, swine, goats, and sheep."
oops, someone forgot about the chickens (and ducks and geese and...)

Maybe they didn't forget about poultry when writing the code and instead are sending a clear signal that urban chickens, even low-density residential chickens, shouldn't be prohibited. Given the biggest complaints about the chickens in Clay are due to the noise the roosters make, I'm inclined to think the code was unintentionally incomplete in banning roosters.

Maybe we can help the Clay commission settle this: are chickens to be considered pets? if not, what are they?


Steven Walling said...

Since I don't know anyone who keeps urban chickens solely for economic reasons, and also considering that poultry aren't technically livestock, I'd say urban chickens (at least mine) are pets.

I don't sell the eggs (even when they lay excess), and their personalities mean as much to me as their laying abilities. I'd say that makes a pet! In fact, a much better one than a cat or dog. Since when did a dog give you anything as magical and tasty as an egg, in addition to being personable?

After getting chickens, I honestly don't think I could go back to a pet that consumes without producing something more than just affection in return.

Kateri said...

My chickens are certainly pets! I suspect that most urban chickens are kept just as much for pet value as they are for eggs. Even though we are looking forward to getting eggs, it would probably be more economic to to just buy eggs when you count in the cost of building the coop and everything.

Kathi D said...

I think of mine as pets. I thought I wanted them mainly for the fresh eggs, but they haven't laid a single egg yet (coming soon I think) and I have gotten so much enjoyment from just the keeping of them, that the eggs will be a bonus instead of the main event.

Linda said...

For some reason I feel compelled to throw everything on its end here. What's so important about such a distinction? If an animal isn't a pet, then it should be treated somehow less humanely? Why does having an animal sharing your living space have to rate some sort of special label? I treat my hens as "pets" I guess, since I don't treat them differently than I do my dogs or my cat. I like to watch them and enjoy heir antics and personalities. I provide them with appropriate housing and food, as well as treats. I have concern for their well-being and do my utmost to ensure they are healthy. I do not personify them or their responses, instead I seek to understand their behavior and how I can communicate with them in a way they understand. Yep, pretty much the same way I treat my dogs and my cat. And, I'd treat any other desireable animal the same way. [I had to distinguish "desireable animal" here because I wouldn't do this with a pest like a rat, a 'possum, or a racoon!]

Kateri said...

In response to Linda, having grow up on a small farm, there is a definite difference between a pet and a animal that is kept to provide a service or product. That doesn't mean a farmer is going to treat his farm animals with any less respect or regard for their wellbeing. Animals are the most productive and healthy when treated humanely, so it is in the best interest of a small farmer to do everything possible for the well being of his or her animals.

The difference between a farm animal and a farm animal gets old or is no longer useful it is made into hamburger, soup, or dog food, or otherwise humanely (hopefully) dispatched of. It would not be economically sane for a farmer to keep a of flock of old hens that rarely lay an egg or a herd of old milk cows whose production has greatly decreased.

If you are planning on making soup from your hens when they are done with their laying years, then I don't think you can label them as pets. On the other hand, if your are planning to let them live to a ripe old age in comfortable retirement, then yes, I think your chickens are pets.

Emily Cole said...

I know someone around here who has a rooster INSIDE thier house as a pet... he's treated and housed like a large parrot, and he is definately a pet animal. There is no economic benefit - he doesn't lay eggs, and they will not be eating him.

Jeannine from Pittsburgh said...

In response to Kateri's response, I'd love to hear from folks who have had "pet" chickens for several years. Most of the chicken-related blogs/posts are from people just at the start of their chicken-raising. So, all you urban chickeners out there, what do you plan to do when you no longer get eggs? I'm thinking about getting a few hens, but my borough will need to be convinced. I'm as interested in having them as a means of using up some of my excess produce that currently goes into the compost bin (chard leaves with leaf-miners, the outer bits of cabbage plus the tasty caterpillars, that sort of thing), and having a chicken shortcut to compost would be great, so if I do manage to get hens, they will live out their natural lives with me. But once you get used to getting fresh eggs, I'm sure it's hard to give that up to house some older birds. Do people get a few "fresh" chicks every few years or so? Love to hear about it.

Jeannine from Pittsburgh

Jeannine from Pittsburgh said...

An additional response to Linda's comments. I think the whole issue of "are chickens pets" is more of a legal definition than a treatment issue. My borough doesn't have an outright ordinance banning chickens, but does not define them as being "allowable" pets. Although I am woefully ignorant of legal stuff, my gut feeling is that it's probably legally easier to change a definition than to change an existing ordinance. I'm planning to pick the brains of my lawyer friends on this. So, yes, my hens would most definitely be pets! (By definition, as well as by the way I plan to treat them, which, although I don't plan to invite them into my home, I will provide them with comfortable lodgings, food a treats, and any affection that they will allow me to give!)

steve23 said...

im am the chicken owner in clay alabama and yes i think chickens can be pets,ther is only one idiot in this neighborhood who says there not and he has threatened to kill people he even pulled a gun on me and my cousin,but if anyone could help with the chicken situation call me at 205-680-6091 or 205-296-9281


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