Urban hens often abandoned once egg-laying ends
DES MOINES, Iowa — Five chickens live in artist Alicia Rheal's backyard in Madison, Wis., and when they age out of laying eggs, they may become chicken dinner.
"We get egg-layers and after a couple of years we put the older girls in the freezer and we get a newer batch," Rheal said.
Rheal is a pragmatic backyard chicken enthusiast who likes to know what's in her food. But others find the fun of bringing a slice of farm life into the city stops when the hens become infertile. Hesitant to kill, pluck and eat a chicken, some people abandon the animal in a park or rural area.
As a result, more old hens are showing up at animal shelters, where workers increasingly respond to reports of abandoned poultry.
"The numbers are exploding. We had hoped that the fad had peaked and maybe we were going to get a little bit of a break here, but we haven't," said Mary Britton Clouse, who operates Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis.
In 2001, she had six calls from people seeking homes for abandoned chickens. That rose to nearly 500 last year, said Clouse, who takes animals from the city's animal control department and works with local humane groups to place unwanted birds.
As winter approaches the number of abandoned chickens rises, Clouse said: "The summer fun is over."