People Are Returning Their Pandemic Chickens

Rescue organizations say they are struggling to take in all the unwanted chickens.

At the start of the pandemic, when daring to go to the supermarket meant staring at empty shelves where the dairy products, canned goods, and yeast packets used to be, some people decided that they'd adopt chickens to give themselves a steady supply of fresh eggs, or just to take control of something in their lives.

But now that everything feels slightly different and many of us are inching our way back to normal, those chickens have become just another responsibility—or perhaps a reminder of what life was like twelve-plus months ago. As a result, some people are giving up their backyard birds, which is proving to be stressful for the chickens themselves, and for the organizations that rescue roosters and hens.

Backyard chickens
George Clerk / Getty Images

According to Block Club Chicago, the Chicago Roo Crew is one of those animal advocacy groups, and they're struggling to pay for veterinary care for the birds they already have. They've been inundated with so many requests to take in abandoned or unwanted chickens that they've had to start turning them down, and referring those people to other organizations. "Right now, currently, we're closed for intake," Julia Magnus, an animal rights attorney and Chicago Roo Crew volunteer, told the outlet. "Because we have too many [birds] and our vet bills are tremendous."

This isn't just happening in Chicago either: Tamerlaine Sanctuary & Preserve in Montague, New Jersey told the West Milford Messenger that they've had to stop taking in new birds after having to accept 20 hens in the past few months. The sanctuary houses around 150 birds, and it might spend as much as $20,000 every year on veterinary care for the chickens.

Gabrielle Stubbert, the sanctuary's co-founder and executive director, said that when people call to discuss surrendering their chickens, she usually tries to convince them to keep the birds—but her efforts don't seem to matter. "If there's any kind of trouble, or they're having any kind of difficulty, they're just like, 'It's too much, I don't want them anymore," she said.

In Berlin, Germany's largest animal shelter is also trying to accommodate "roughly three times as many chickens" as it would have during a totally normal year, and it's also getting short on space for them. Last December, Britain's RSPCA said that it had to deal with 1,562 abandoned chickens over the course of the year, and had accepted 280 chickens into its rescue centers for rehoming.

Of course, there could be other reasons that people have had to surrender their backyard birds other than "I just don't want them anymore." As NPR previously noted, some armchair farmers could've learned about local regulations that affect their flock—or specifically prohibit roosters from living within city limits—after they brought the animals home, or the hens that they bought to lay eggs have stopped, you know, doing that.

Regardless, if you're currently in that situation, please don't put your birds in a box and leave them somewhere. Please try to contact a local animal shelter, a rescue group, or a chicken-specific organization to find out what you can do to ensure that the birds will be safely accommodated and taken care of going forward.

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