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Owning 3 Chickens on 12 Acres

A friend of mine, let’s call him Dylan, recently asked:

I was wondering with regards to having chickens who lay eggs and then eating the eggs in a 3-6 chickens on 12 acres situation.  This is my situation.  Do you think that eating the eggs of chickens who have as good a life as any other house pet is bad because it contributes to permissive attitudes to other people eating eggs or demand for eggs in general?

I never really understood the anti-egg part of veganism, or, at least, I know that vegans in general hate battery chicken farms and the meat and eggs that occur as a result of that.  But, an egg is essentially a chicken’s period.  Even if it is fertilised it doesn’t start chugging towards life until the chicken has collected several eggs in the same place and it is the right season to do so.  A chicken will want to sit on many fertilised eggs to hatch a lot of chicks.

If the eggs are not fertilised, and the chicken tries to hatch them, she can die from malnutrition or thirst in a behaviour that I’ve come to known as brooding or being broody where she will sit on some egg(s) in a nest until they hatch even though there is no chance of such and won’t even leave for food or water, so perpetuating the lie that she will have children from unfertilised eggs is actually harmful to her.

Long story short, I’m asking if you can tell me whether each of these phrases below are morally true to a vegan:

  • Owning any animal as a pet is wrong.
  • Owning any animal as a pet that produces edible products and then eating the products is wrong.
  • Owning any animal as a pet because it produces edible products is wrong.

Further to this, how does this translate to, for example, alpacas?  Is shearing them and keeping or using the wool bad?  Or, should shearing only be used for their comfort and the wool be discarded to avoid promoting it’s exploitation and use?

I hope my reply to him was good. What do you think? Here it is.

Hi Dylan!

First, I wonder about the end result of thoughts like what you shared. Meaning, what comes out of these mental projects? I hope they are done in an effort to expand compassion and ease the suffering of others, rather than to navigate a maze of technicalities in hopes of justifying speciesism through some philosophical back door.

I tell people that “veganism” can be thought of as shorthand for “peaceful non-cooperation with any speciesist idea.” Speciesism is to animals what racism is to blacks (typically) or sexism is to women (typically). Speciesism, racism and sexism are all forms of discrimination, which ultimately end up in violence. No form of discrimination is based on any logical or morally-consistent criteria.

The three questions above ask about the technical aspects of owning sentient beings, and make the assumption that one can really own another.

My answer to most what-if questions about veganism can be anticipated by replacing the animal in the question with a human. A young girl makes great replacement example, because most of the animals we have enslaved are, in their years as relative to humans, teenage girls.

When I read over your questions I translate them like so: If I paid for a black girl fair and square, is it wrong to shave her head and make wigs out of it whenever I feel like it? Shaving her doesn’t hurt her, and she’s got it as good as any other pet. Would it be okay for me to own her if I didn’t shave her head?

Of course no one in these days really would admit to “owning” another human being.

Is it any different with chickens? Using a chicken as an object, an egg-producing device, requires mentally reducing that chicken from an individual down to a non-individual.

I asked a relative about this email and my reply and such. She asked me what you’re going to do when those chickens die out. Will you keep eating eggs?

You have chickens at home, which are basically rescued (I guess?) pets that happen to produce edible foods which you take from them. In your example, these chickens probably have all sorts of food and water, maybe even access to good veterinary care, and plenty of room to run around, hunt for worms and socialize.

I think that’s great. If you’ve rescued them, you’re providing them a peaceful, lovely end to their days. Hopefully you’ve got them neutered (or keep them far from roosters) so they don’t overpopulate in an area which, without your income and human-provided infrastructure, I’m guessing they could not survive.

Your wool example is great. Animals which produce wool are not simply left to wander, randomly fed whatever food naturally grows nearby (and starved if no food is present?), given medicine, and occasionally sheared to their comfort. They are turned into wool machines. They are fed specific grains, grasses, vitamins, kept lit and in the dark at certain times, and sheared at specific intervals. They are units of production who, at the end of their profitability, are killed anyway. The same is true for a chicken. As soon as she is unprofitable on the egg line, she is killed for her flesh.

There are two schools of thought on animal issues. People like PETA are animal welfarists. They assert that killing animals is A-Okay, as long as we’re “nice” to them for a little while first. I initially was a welfarist, because, to be perfectly honest, the bulk of the material out there is written by people who think this way.

The other school of thought is animal rights. This kind of thinking says that animals are not property. Treatment of the animals is not the problem. Use of the animals is the problem. Until we stop using them, they will always be subjected to horrible lives. Furthermore, using them at all is indefensible morally; every argument in favor of animal use with happy treatment keeps animals defined as property. Until animals are no longer considered property, use of them will never cease. It does not matter how well they are treated. Ultimately, we remove their ability to live their lives in a manner they see fit. That is not our call to make.

There are so many interesting things to say about veganism. Gary Francione’s web site has an FAQ that might interest you greatly.

7 Responses

  1. Kate says:

    Wow, great response! Though I will say that PETA is now leaning more toward true veganism and animal rights concerns. Thanks for posting such a logical and even-handed response.

  2. […] an excellent post about whether his friend ought to keep chickens and eat their eggs, Jason Dunn says this comparing […]

  3. Paula says:

    I’m wondering what your answer to whether keeping any animal as a pet would be at odds to a vegan life is. (You may have answered that question in there and I just missed it. If so, sorry!)

    I have six cats, one adopted from a no-kill shelter, the rest taken in off the street (or out of my backyard) in various states of ill-health. I don’t gain really anything from them except that I like them. Some of them like me. Some of them would prefer that I let them outside or allow them to go crazy or something, but I don’t. I don’t recognize their right as individuals to put themselves in danger.

    I also plan, once I am in a position to do so (house and yard situation sorted), to adopt two chickens from rescue organizations. I won’t let them procreate, and I’ll listen to a vet on how best to make sure that doesn’t happen. They’ll be cared for as pets like my cats. And I’ll eat whatever eggs they produce.

    Until then, I don’t eat eggs. If the chickens pass on, I won’t eat eggs until I adopt more. If whatever chickens I adopted couldn’t for some reason produce eggs, I would love them and keep them as pets regardless.

    If a human moved into my house (or into a little house in my backyard with a big outdoor covered area to protect them from urban predators), I wouldn’t mind if they kicked in a few bucks every once in a while to pay the bills. If they needed a place to stay and couldn’t help out, that’s cool, too, wouldn’t kick them out, but it’s nice.

    So if I adopt a chicken from a rescue organization, should I throw the eggs away? I don’t see why. It’s not doing nothing to the chicken to eat them.

    Maybe fictitiously eating the eggs of chickens I fictitiously own makes me a bad vegan. Ehh. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it make me a bad example of veganism. Nah.

  4. Hillary says:

    Interesting read! I think your heart is definitely in the right place, and I agree with about all you’ve said here, but I don’t think these specific questions were addressed. If a person is saving battery hens and giving them a fabulous life, I don’t see what use it is to throw eggs away. It in no way harms or abuses chickens, nor is it morally suggestive of slavery to casually collect in the natural process of egg laying hens.
    Slavery, racism, and speciesism are all very serious accusations, but it sounds like your friend would like to treat these hens with respect and affection, and has no plans to exploit them in any way. It is important to send the message that breeding animals for product is wrong, but the rescue animals need sanctuary. I am certain that if I was a chicken, I would be pleased to share my eggs in this situation. As a human who has shared her own eggs, I suppose maybe my view is unique.
    Anyway, I appreciate your compassion.

  5. Jason Dunn says:

    PETA promotes welfarist style reform. Bigger cages, comfier ways to kill chickens. Gary Francione addresses this very well in his article, “The Four Problems of Animal Welfare: In a Nutshell.”

  6. bitt says:

    Great explanation of welfare versus rights. This is the main divide on issues that basically seperate vegans from vegetarians.

    As for what to do with the eggs, I worked on a bird sanctuary and we hard-boiled the eggs and fed them to back to the birds. Often sanctuaries will give the wool back to the sheep for bedding.

    PETA sucks. It promotes killing of companion animals and has even done so.

  7. […] an excellent post about whether his friend ought to keep chickens and eat their eggs, Jason Dunn says this comparing […]

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