The economics of animal cruelty

Brian Jones bjones@thetelegram.com
Published on December 27, 2013

Occasionally during my morning chore of collecting eggs from the chicken coop, I get greedy.
It occurs to me that if we doubled the number of chickens, we could double the number of eggs.
This urge has no rational explanation. We don’t need more eggs. It is merely a desire to have more.

When I brought the idea up, it was vetoed by Older Boy, who stated categorically that we should not, and would not, have more than six chickens in the coop. He was right, and his veto stood.

We built the coop five years ago, when Older Boy was 12. I supplied brute labour, and he supplied the brains and a bit of extra labour. While I figured out walls, windows and trusses, he read “How to Raise Chickens.”

Careful design

Apparently, healthy chickens should each have eight square feet of space in the coop and in the outdoor “run.”

So, we built the coop, and the run, six feet wide by eight feet long — 48 square feet inside and an equal amount outside, to house six chickens.

We installed four vents for maximum air circulation.

Even though we live in a “heritage area,” we didn’t want to risk complaints from neighbours about the stench of poultry. It worked. You can stand right beside the coop and not smell a thing.

As per Older Boy’s instructions, we covered the run with an old fishing net to keep out wild birds.

We started with two hens and a rooster that we purchased from a local farmer. Older Boy named the hens Chestnut and Lafleur, and the rooster Harry Plum Boy.

Harry was a big, fine-looking bird, with bright red and orange feathers. He was missing a spur on one leg, so if you startled him, he would sometimes give a loud squawk and flop over onto his side.

Long life

They all lived a couple of years longer than we thought they would. When Lafleur died, we buried her beside the garden and put a rock on top, with the epitaph, “Here lies Lafleur. She laid good eggs.”

We’re on our third generation of hens. We don’t name them anymore. They live and lay for a few years, and then one day you find them dead, of no apparent cause.

Whenever seal hunt opponents launch another fundraising stunt, I think about chickens.

Anti-seal-hunt activists have it backwards.

Death does not define cruelty. The level of cruelty we impose on animals should not be judged by how we kill them, but by how we force them to live.

By this standard, factory farming is far crueler than the seal hunt.

Defenders of the seal hunt often point out, correctly, that the slaughter of millions of farm animals in abattoirs is just as messy and violent as the shocking image of red seal blood on white ice.

But to win the argument about the seal hunt, Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) should shift the debate to how animals live rather than how they die.

Seals live wild. Then we — well, some people — kill them.

Compare the lives of seals to the lives of cattle, pigs and chickens. Multiple millions of farm animals are crammed into stalls, pens or cages for most, or all, of their lives. Their lifelong confinement is more cruel than their eventual butchering.

To put this in perspective, a factory farm could put 50 or more hens into our chicken coop.

Consumers are complicit, of course, in the abuse and cruelty of factory farming. We want eggs for $3 a dozen. We want a roasting chicken for $6. We want cheap steak and sausages.

Animal-rights activists pick the easier target and challenge sealers rather than consumers.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be contacted at bjones@thetelegram.com.