Monday, July 8, 2013

Skinny Jeans, Chickens and Bloodsport


Alas, it looks as if the once red-hot backyard chicken fad is losing ground amongst the Michael Pollan-inspired urban pioneer set, because chickens are, well, a big pain in the ass.  And they don't accessorize well, either.

From this story on nbcnews.com 
 
Despite visions of quaint coops, happy birds and cheap eggs, the growing trend of raising backyard chickens in urban settings is backfiring, critics say, as disillusioned city dwellers dump unwanted fowl on animal shelters and sanctuaries. Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.

"...It’s the same scenario at the Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minn., where owner Mary Britton Clouse has tracked a steady climb in surrendered birds from fewer than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012. She traces that rise to the so-called “locavore” movement, which spiked in popularity in 2008 as advocates urged people to eat more food grown and processed close to home.

“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.” People entranced by a “misplaced rural nostalgia” are buying chickens from the same hatcheries that supply the nation's largest poultry producers and rearing them without proper space, food or veterinary care, she said.

Because chickens are notoriously hard to sex, some backyard farmers wind up with roosters, which are often culled and killed because they can be noisy, aggressive and illegal, and, of course, they don’t lay eggs at all. In addition to the noise, many urban farmers are surprised that chickens attract pests like rats, and predators including foxes, raccoons, hawks, and even neighborhood dogs. When they get sick or hurt, they need care that can run into the hundreds of dollars, boosting the price of that home-grown egg far beyond even the most expensive grocery store brand.

Enthusiasts who start out with good intentions frequently wind up posting messages like this one delivered to Britton-Clouse last month: “One of our hens grew up into a rooster and our neighbors are starting to complain. Do you know someone who might take him?” “People don’t know what they’re doing,” Britton Clouse said. “And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”


But Ludlow, the backyard chicken enthusiast, said that “it’s very rare” that people make such mistakes or underestimate how difficult it is to raise chickens. “While we definitely want to see more education around the lifespan and laying lifespan of chickens, we find that most people become so attached to their hens as pets, that even though they planned to eat or cull their hens at the end of their laying life, they decide to keep their girls around even without laying eggs,” he said. Coston, the Farm Sanctuary shelter director, said she wished that were true. Most people don’t realize that chickens are funny, with quirky habits and affectionate personalities as distinct as any other pet’s. 

A few thoughts...

It may be easy for the more smug among us to scoff and sneer at those naive, sensitive fools who become attached to the livestock, as it were. I'm not one of them. You're currently reading a dude who has three pigeons in his coop right now, pigeons that were among a large lot purchased for the sole purpose of dog training, but for a variety of reasons (daddy, I like the white one!) have become de facto pets. They eat my feed, crap, mess their water, take up space and basically serve as living, breathing mockeries of why I built the damn coop in the first place, which was to serve as a holding pen for the feral barn pigeons I trap for training the dogs. Others have come and gone, but those three sit there like Macbeth's witches, cooing and laughing at me.

The truth is, it's natural to grow attached to the animals you raise. In fact, the only two animals I can recall feeling not the least bit of remorse for as they were led to the freezer was a pair of monstrous pigs that haunted my childhood like a pair of porcine Freddy Kruegers. I'm quite convinced those two were waiting for the right time to eat me as I fed them, and the day they were loaded up and sent to the butcher I made it a point to tell them I couldn't wait for them to get back home, all wrapped up nicely. Yeah, fuck you, Wilbur.

Having said that, however, if you're going to raise chickens (or anything) for food, you've got to be pragmatic about such things. Chickens only go so far as a cool example of your hip, idiosyncratic personality or as an environmental or socio-cultural statement. Beyond that, they become simply eggs and meat. And responsibility.  

And that's the basic problem I have with much of the locavore/slow food/urban self-reliance movement. Not the movement itself, which I admire and support, but rather many of the stupid fuckwits who comprise it. I'm all for knowing where your food comes from, and in playing a larger, better-informed individual part in obtaining said food. The less power and influence wielded by the Monsantos and Cargills and ADMs of the world the better. 

The problem, it seems, comes when people realize that actually doing so takes some effort, and forces you to make the kind of honest and sometimes painful decisions you never have to make in a supermarket, at least in regard to animals.

This applies, I believe, even more so to hunting, which has enjoyed something of a foodie-related rise in popularity these past few years. Which I think is great. I really do. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that, to me, anyway, more than a bit of the current urban hipster foodie interest in hunting/gathering (and much of what's been written on the subject) has the definite chicken-like whiff of faddishnes and zeitgeist-hopping swirling about it. 

Not for everyone, of course. I'm sure, and thankful for the fact that there are many out there for whom an introduction to hunting has been a fundamentally transformative experience, one they'll continue for the rest of their lives. And I for one would love to see more weird, eccentric, laid-back, gun-toting hippies in the woods to help balance out the inordinate number of rednecks (and I say that with one foot firmly planted in each camp...) tearing about on those goddamned four-wheelers, invoking Jesus and tossing beer cans.

But I simply don't buy into the argument, espoused (fervently) by many in the industry, that hunting's recent popularity is sustainable and/or permanent. Everything, but especially Groupthink, is cyclical, and fickle. This isn't a movement. Hunting is not the next big thing, it's simply a modestly popular now thing, and for many, many people currently intrigued by and/or flirting with bloodsport, it'll eventually be a discarded and forgotten thing. Like a bunch of unwanted chickens. 

And I'm cool with that, too. Doesn't bother me in the least. The (probably) relatively few people who are meant to find hunting will find it. The people who aren't will move on to the next Search For Deep Meaning and I'll start scoring some A. solitude in the woods (and hopefully water. Damn duck commanders...) and B. some sweet, barely-used gear in the thrift shops. And that is a win-win... 
 

35 comments:

  1. I so want a like button. burst out laughing about the pigeons. I raise mine for hawk food and training amazing how you get attached to some and not others

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  2. Heck, it may be a triple-win. Hunters may also start getting more understanding from those who move on to other pursuits (and even from their friends and family who have now known a hunter personally, if only briefly).

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  3. Actually, Tovar, I was just being a flippant smartass about the win-win, but that's a damn good and serious point, and one that had completely escaped me...

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  4. Stephen, it's true, isn't it? I just can't bring myself to use any of those three birds. Little bastards have grown on me...

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  5. I enjoy your flippant smartassedness, Chad. I've got a healthy streak of that, too, though I don't flash it in public very often. ;-)

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  6. I take this stuff very seriously, which is why we've not gotten chickens or quail, while we've wanted them quite badly. Just too much work. Then again, we are two country people who now live in the City so I guess we have a clue of what the real task (i.e. the smell of ammonia from chicken shit on a hot day) might really entail.

    I guess I've also been lucky to not have encountered the "hipster fuckwits" (snort!) you mention, because that would upset me as well. I live and breathe sustainability and I fix broken swamps and streams for a living. But sometimes you have to get some goddamn chicken nuggets and eat them in the truck with the air conditioning on....and that's just all there is to it.

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  7. I also don't understand the dumping. Why not just kill the thing and eat it? It's freaking chicken. A five year old bird, I'm sure, is not extravagantly juicy, but it'll do fine in a pie, stew, crockpot, or tacos.

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    1. Yep, I'm a sentimental softie, but only to an extent. We're actually planning on a few chickens next year (and I'll just have to deal with those childhood flashbacks of rooster attack as best I can...) but we're definitely going to be on the eggs/meat consumption track. The only chicken dumping we're going to be doing is in the pot...

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    2. Agreed. Eat it.

      My kids weren't allowed to dump animals when they grew tired of them. They learned to step up, be responsible, and find something enjoyable in keeping the critter. It taught them responsibility and the meaning of "you have to take care of it." It's a shame adults think living beings are disposable.

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  8. I was lucky - I grew up hunting and fishing. I was raised in the boonies with chickens, goats, pigs, cows - the whole farm feel even though we never called it a farm.
    I also had a feverish love of punk rock, skateboarding, and getting the hell out of the sticks for a bit to see what's out there, and went to urban Southern California to dance with the devil for a few admittedly long years.

    I feel like I too have both feet planted in each camp. It's a weird feeling being a tenant of each camp. I can crush Coors and Busch and take a dip with some of the good ole boys and feel equally at home with the REI and Pataguchi friends I've grown close to who are just learning the ropes of hunting.

    But my question - Do you really think it's a fad? I'm sure there's a crest of the fad wave that will dissolve into the beach, but I don't think that's the whole equation.

    I've been witnessing a sea change in attitudes of other hunters my age (late 20's early 30s). I'm not talking about the nubes, I'm talking about the guys I grew up with. We aren't like our dads (for the most part). We see things a bit more liberally and see a bigger picture. I'm not trying to come off as an uppity mountain hippy but there is a visible change in my eyes to the average sportsman in my age category and younger. Even some of those catch and kill everything rednecks on quads now have kids who stopped dunking worms and picked up a fly rod for C&R, who pick up their chew cans instead of chucking them out of the truck.
    It's slow, but it's happening.

    Been dwelling on this topic for a long time. Sorry for the mega-comment.

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    1. I do think that for a lot of people it is just a fad. But like anything, there's a percentage of them that will take to it, understand it, embrace it and incorporate it. And I think, honestly, despite the legion hipster jokes (I'm as guilty of them as anybody), that we as a demographic, will be the better for it, not only in terms of the different perspectives it brings to the table, but also, like you pointed out, in the slowly changing views of how we perceive nature. Also, as Tovar pointed out, even the ones who eventually give it up will at the very least have an enhanced understanding and acceptance of hunting, which is always a win.

      Because the fact is - and I firmly believe this - Americans, after some 200 years of relatively unfettered and seemingly limitless resource exploitation (and I don't mean that as a pejorative, it simply is what it is) are quickly approaching something of a tipping point. There are simply too many people and too many interests vying for an increasingly smaller and more limited piece of the resource pie, and I'm speaking in terms of outdoor recreation as well.

      Some people don't want to accept that, they want to continue believing that we can go on just as we have been, with the same attitudes, practices, and in many cases casual, unthinking abuse and overuse of that resource and all will be fine. It's not necessarily that we don't care, it's just that when you grow up in a country that has seemingly inexhaustible natural resources, it's hard to imagine ever becoming (sorry, Europeans...) something like Europe. It's a frame of reference problem. You sort of take that wildness for granted, and resist any notions of altering how you impact that wildness (like say, not building roads or ATV trails into every nook of public land in the nation)as somehow un-American.

      I hope it's changing, I truly do. I guess we'll see.

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  9. To back up Tovar's observation. After the foodies (who were all anti hunting in the 80s and 90s) have spent £480 - that's $718 on an Eglu which is a stylin' designer chicken hut - and the urban foxes have killed their disneyfied chooks they suddenly don't oppose fox shooting any more.

    SBW veteran hipister and adult onset hunter who lives in the city.

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    1. Sorry correction
      Thats $1045.80 for a new one!!
      SBW

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    2. Holy cow those are some expensive chickens. But I bet they look good. I want to see you take the next step, SBW, and get yourself a chicken or two. I'd read that for sure...

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    3. I was all good to go with my daughter but Ex Mrs SBW has as we say in our local argot "proper taken the 'ump" with yours truly so i've not been able to put the plan into practice. Mi Casa you say? I'll answer that by posting a video.
      SBW

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  10. " I for one would love to see more weird, eccentric, laid-back, gun-toting hippies in the woods to help balance out the inordinate number of rednecks (and I say that with one foot firmly planted in each camp.."

    YEAH. Ditto Larry & Sten as they doubtless know, and Tovar in a more serious vein. ALL right on the money.

    I have kept pigeons for 50 years plus, like eating them, and still hate culling them.

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  11. Unfortunately, Steve, I'm still in the minority around here. The fact that I've got dog crates and shotguns in my car is mostly negated by the fact that said car is (most days except when it's really muddy) a Subaru...with a Buddha velcroed to the dashboard, no less...

    'course, I've also got a Buddha velcroed to the dashboard of my redneck-approved '94 Chevy truck. I call it my spiritual AAA. As long as I rub his tummy once in awhile, both cars just keep humming along without a hitch

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  12. Thanks, Chad, for your always entertaining writing. Brings a smile to the middle of my otherwise corporate day.

    Crazy Uncle Larry, I agree. With all of it. I'm right there with you.

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    1. Thanks, dneaster3, I appreciate that.

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  13. Wow. Great post and equally solid responses! Good reading here.

    Chad, you echo some of my own sentiment in regards to the foodie/locavore "movement". It comes and goes.

    Most of us read Thoreau, "I went to the woods to live deliberately..." Where did that end up for ol' HD?

    I'm not old enough to remember WWII Victory Gardens or the Cold War self-sufficiency (preparedness) movement, but I do recall the Back-to-the-Earth movement that gave us folks like Euell Gibbons and publications like the Mother Earth News. I've hunted on the grounds of some of those old California agricultural communes which have morphed into commercial farm operations as the hippies who once worked those fields surrendered to the reality of corporate jobs and raising families. Granola and carrot juice have sort of given way to quinoa and whatever the latest-miracle-fruit-antioxidant-elixir happens to be at the moment. Now it's foraging and hunting or husbanding your own urban barnyard.

    This too shall pass, leaving behind a handful of folks for whom it really "worked", and if we're all lucky, some of the more positive attitudes toward food and wild places. There are the folks out there like Tovar (I hope) who really go beyond the fad. But I'm pretty comfortable saying that for many, it will be more like Mark Zuckerberg's year-long foray into "eating only meat that I have killed myself" experiment. When it's done they say, "well, OK, I've done that. What next?"

    My first wife is currently thinking about getting chickens to raise in the backyard. She's already admitted that she has no intention of culling them after their egg-laying days are over (and I doubt she could do it if she wanted to). After our recent conversation, I hope she's having second thoughts... but I think I'll send her a link to the article here.

    By the way, I had a Buddha glued to the rear fender of my motorcycle. I'd often give him a rub prior to a long ride. He decided I no longer needed him somewhere along Interstate 5 near Bakersfield, and I replaced him with a flying ace Snoopy. Apropos of pretty much nothing...

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    1. Though I dislike trendiness, I suppose it's possible I'm part of the "fad." If so, I started early (10 years ago) and am lasting longer than average...

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    2. Yupp, Tovar. You appear to go beyond the fad. No Zuckerberg, you.

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    3. Yeah, Phillip, I think a lot of them will eventually move one to something else, it's just human nature, really, humans are a fickle bunch. Snoopy, however, is as constant as the stars. Might need to get one for my truck...

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  14. I think this issue has been discussed before. Phillip and myself in particular weighed the balance of what is lasting change (?) and what is fad with "food movement" and hunting. Indecently I do think the core parts of it are a movement.

    I live in the seeming epicenter of hipster co-option of iconic imagery and pursuits they'll never take the time to belong to. So I concede that much of these affectations will pass as the next big thing looms shiny and new on the horizon. But I don't really care.

    Firstly, most things start as trends, and enough people will stick to it to help reverse some of the losses to numbers of hunting and fishing due mostly to a shift in folks from country to city. It's great to have people interested. But even for those people that just dip their feet in will have a changed perspective, hopefully. Maybe they go on a hunt or two, or even keep at it for a few years. Maybe even buy a gun. Any of these people is now less susceptible to fabrications they're told on the news, or open to wild fantasies fabricated by animals rights groups about hunting. Their friends have a change in perception of "what a hunter is" because now they know one. That's worth it right there.

    Neil H

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    1. Whoa, rambling post, even for me. Tired today.

      Incidentally, on the subject of Buddhas and vehicles, my 1980 honda civic had a Buddha on the dashboard back in my youthful days of skateboarding and road trips. It's sitting next to my computer now as I write this. There must be some sort of demographic...

      I am also, on the subject of new hunters, backing up my words. I've just passed my Hunter Education Instructor test, and I just have to apprentice with another instructor for a class or two before I start classes.

      Neil

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    2. I'm not sure if I'd consider it a genuine, large-scale "movement", but as John Cusack tells the waitress in a great scene from "Grosse Point Blank", "Look, I don't want to get into a semantic argument about it, I just want the protein"

      Can't disagree with anything else you've said...

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  15. Chad, Tovar - I am very hope heavy on the third outcome - That more people will have a better understanding and appreciation of hunting.

    I get queasy when I get into a hunting conversation with a person who's anti-gun or vegan or pro-animal rights and they have no idea of where I'm coming from aside from lumping me in with the "from my cold dead hands" and redneck resource abusing people. It's tiresome and impossible to defend your status as an outdoorsman when people stereotypically peg you into those camps automatically.

    A better understanding of what most responsible outdoorsman represent is the best gift we can receive from the "hipster hunter fad".

    Chad, you are correct in comparing our future to that of Europe. Speaking as a native westerner I must say that in my observations it's already closing in to European norms on the east coast. I become dumbfounded when I read stories of hunters who have limited public access, who have to seek out permission to hunt private lands, or have to pay to play or else they can't hunt at all. I wrote about chukar last year as "the last bastion of the upland cult". I guess I'm spoiled living in Nevada - a place that has 85% public land and half of that holds an abundance of game. I honestly don't know if I could pursue hunting and fishing if I lived in a place where I was relegated to a few small, crowded, and over pressured public areas.. or rolling the dice of knocking on a farmers door - it just doesn't seem right to me. I do give it up for all of the outdoorsman who face that as reality and continue forging on as long as they can, cause it's not gonna last in our ever shrinking world.

    Thanks for opening up this conversation, all of you. As I stated previously this has been riding my thoughts for some time. Feels good to sound it out with the lot of ya.
    - Larry

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  16. I also have a growing amount of pride in my place as a " weird, eccentric, laid-back, gun-toting hippy in the woods that helps balance out the inordinate number of rednecks."

    If people aren't scratching their heads after they talk to you you're doing it wrong.

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    1. "If people aren't scratching their heads after they talk to you you're doing it wrong."

      Love that. Amen...

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  17. So now I'll start trolling the shelters for yardbirds looking for a new home (in a hot pot of water for pho) Bird hunting in the burbs..

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  18. Don't think I haven't thought about that...unfortunately, I live in a fairly pragmatic area, so I doubt many - if any - chickens make it to the shelter.

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  19. "I become dumbfounded when I read stories of hunters who have limited public access, who have to seek out permission to hunt private lands, or have to pay to play or else they can't hunt at all....I honestly don't know if I could pursue hunting and fishing if I lived in a place where I was relegated to a few small, crowded, and over pressured public areas.. or rolling the dice of knocking on a farmers door - it just doesn't seem right to me."

    Larry; I wholeheartedly agree. I'm afraid that's the way it's headed, however - urban hipster hunters notwithstanding. They're used to "pay to play" and are willing to do it; in fact the easy way out with seeded game is what most of them seem to be looking for. And there just are too many folks willing to give it to them.

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  20. "Sweet, barely used gear in thriftshops". I've been waiting twenty years for barely used flyfishing gear after that movie released the yuppie hordes upon the rivers. Still haven't found the motherlode. Maybe hipsters will be more quick to clean out their closets.

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