You see, what you may not know about chickens, is that they are drawn to the colour red. In fact, they almost get frenetic about their draw and desire towards the colour. When they see blood, instinct tells them to pick and eat it, so much so, that they do not discern what they are picking at, often leading to cannibalism.
Yes, you read that right- Chickens will eat other chickens ... alive. Maybe now is a good time to let you know that they are the closest living relative to a T. Rex dinosaur, so maybe they come by it honestly. Regardless, many backyard chicken owners come to realize this harsh truth through hard lessons learned within our own flocks.
So there I was holding Maggie, my Lavender Orpington hen, ready to put her out of her misery when she looked at me and basically gave me the eye- you know, the one that says...‘I’m not done fighting yet’. I can clearly remember the thought I had in that very moment…
‘Ugh, where was a chicken vet when I needed it?’
You see, it was less than 10 years ago in Ontario, when you couldn’t find a vet to treat backyard chickens. At the time, most vets with poultry experience focused on commercial flocks because that is where the market was, and continues to be. So when you really needed a vet, there were none to be found! Luckily for Maggie, using my experience with treating horse injuries and the shear and unbelievable resilience of chickens, she healed and survived her ordeal.
Fast forward to a few years ago, there were still no chicken vets easily accessible to backyard chicken keepers such as myself. Part of this can be attributed to the value society had placed on chickens as pets. Up and until about the 1960s, chickens were primarily raised on family farms or in the case of many, in backyards. It wasn’t long ago that my Oma was raising chickens in her backyard in Rotterdam, The Netherlands to feed her family. While she likely always had their favourites in the flock, when it came time to make dinner, hens who weren’t productive layers…were dinner. It was a way of life, a means to survival, and at that time, a convenience. Society still viewed the bird as a food commodity. When one became injured or unproductive, you didn’t call the vet, you got the axe instead. It was just what you did.
Maggie in better days
So how did we get to where we are today?
The societal shift in the perception of chickens as pets, can be attributed to the rise of factory farms, urbanization, and improvements in transportation. This was spurred by the move from local farmers markets and small family run shops, to grocery stores, and now what we refer to as ‘super’markets. Consumerism and capitalism drove the wedge between our connection and bond we had with our food. There is no blame in that statement. It is the natural give and take of innovation and advancement in society. Where there are gains to be had, something always has to give.
We gained a lot from the commercialization of farming. I'm not looking to get into the politics of it. I fully support our chicken farmers, but I also have some industry insight and know what they are up against. The rules and regulations they face to ensure the safety of our food system are monumental. These rules and regulations are responsible for the design and setup of modern day chicken farms. I also recognize and respect that it can be a pain spot for others who care about the welfare of animals. I can assure you, 99% of farmers do to, but we are sticking to the economic impact on backyard chicken keeping here.
The commercial poultry industry really took off in the 1960 and ‘70s. Today, the bulk of poultry farmers in Canada are the sons and daughters of the founders of the first commercial size poultry farms. The poultry industry contributes over $3.25 billion dollars to the overall economic activity and provides over 20,000 jobs in Ontario alone. The same can be said for the horticultural industry in Canada, but I will explore that in another blog series down the road.
So, in this blog post we looked at the more recent history of chicken farming driven by societal factors and the move towards the commercialization of farming.
In part 2 of this 5 part series, next Sunday's blog will take a closer look at the role of supermarkets and social media in the rise of backyard chicken vets.
Part 1: Where is the chicken vet when you need it
Part 2: What do supermarkets and backyard chicken vets have in common?
Part 3: South to North, not North to South
Part 4: Oh Kijji
Part 5: Interview: Dr. Erin Preiss of Hockley Valley Mobile Veterinary Services
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