No harm, no fowl.

Here’s the thing:

I’m an animal rights person, so I’m morally obligated to speak my mind from an a/r perspective.


Most of my friends are animal welfare people, that is, they attempt to move through the world causing as little intentional harm to animals as possible, and they are in favor of generally making animals’ lives better. That’s all well and good, I even respect it. Some of my best friends want to make animals’ lives more comfortable in their prisons!

I just believe that animals don’t belong to people. I try to interact in the larger world gracefully while still drinking whiskey with and having dinner parties with welfarists because, let’s admit it, most animal rightists are damn dour (you would be too, if you’d seen all those horrible photos). But that line is always there. Sometimes it explodes, like…below.

What I’m trying to say is: I’m not trying to be an asshole, I’m just speaking my truth, is all. I truly don’t mean any harm to any people who want to keep chickens responsibly. It’s just that my ethics mean that I am morally obligated to fight against chicken keeping to the extent I can. It’s in no way a personal assault on any individuals.

Also: god, I used to be a much better writer. My chicken post below is probably my worstest written post, like, ever. Ah well.



13 Responses to “No harm, no fowl.”

  1. Barry Koffler

    OK, I’m not a New Paltz resident, I’m in High Falls. I keep up on all things poultry.
    I think that domestic chickens do, in fact, belong to people. Most could not survive on their own, as many generations of humans have developed them to be an agricultural resource. So what you seem to be saying is that chickens should be allowed to become extinct since they can’t survive on their own and we shouldn’t own them. But you also say that we should get our “fresh” eggs from local farms (which it seems to me to own those chickens). And on farms hens that are not producing any longer get “axed,” whereas the majority of people who have a few hens in their yard keep “Gertrude” til she dies of old age or find a retirement home for her. Plus you say that farm kept chickens are under more “humane” conditions. But most backyard chickens have a coop and a pen and run around on grass, eating veggies, bugs and all the leftovers from the kitchen. Farm birds are mostly kept in large rooms and never see the light of day (not to mention that axe).
    In response to your 5 points:
    1 – Well, I covered that above.
    2 – Chickens do fine in our weather. The only problem they have is that some large combed roosters may get frostbite on their combs. True, not comfortable, but it doesn’t kill them. And, anyway, the question here isn’t about keeping roosters, just hens.
    3 – The local coyotes and foxes will certainly add chickens to their diet but they are not attracted by them into new areas, they’re already here. And if your coop is secure, no problem. Chickens do not attract rats. Feed does attract rats. So keep your feed in metal cans and your coop clean.
    4 – So you are saying that those farms are OK to be ordering chicks and ignoring the fact that the hatcheries they order from kill the male chicks, but individuals should not ignore that fact? In fact, most of the hatcheries that serve backyard poultry raisers (who tend to buy the more interesting breeds) manage to sell most of their male chicks. And as I understand it, NP is not allowing roosters, just hens. Many towns allow hens. In all the (30+) years I’ve been keeping chickens I’ve never encountered more than a 10% error in sexing from hatchery orders and usually much less (although that “free fancy” chick some hatcheries offer with your order usually turns out to be a male). Other towns that allow hens don’t have a problem. If one of your chicks grows up a boy, you just find someone in a nearby town who can keep roosters. Craiglist and the yahoo group hudsonvalleychickens are 2 places to find homes for unwanted roosters. At best they’ll become the guardian to a small flock of hens, at worst, they’ll be someone’s dinner. And your argument about all those roosters crowing in Hawaii – yep, those are actually the ones you support, they are NOT owned birds but feral – they don’t belong to people. So why aren’t you in favor of them? They’re the onlly chickens you’ve mentioned that actually fit what you say is best for chickens.
    5 – See “Gertrude” above.
    OK, I don’t get it. Chickens don’t belong to us but dogs and cats do? What about horses? guinea pigs? goldfish?

    • lagusta

      Hi Barry! Your comment got stuck in my spam filter until now–weird!

      Well, I don’t think cats and dogs belong to people at all. I just think they’re too far gone. Chickens we have at least a hope of not introducing (more than they already are) into our human world, not domesticating any more than we already have, which I fully recognize is a TON, but, unlike with dogs and cats, they’re not so incorporated into our, um, human pack. Less Americans keep chickens than dogs and cats, that’s all I’m saying. Yes, technically we *should* spay and neuter domesticated dogs and cats out of existence because their dependence on us is inconsistent with my ethical values. Now, I’m not going to work for that just because that’s the highest application of my values. I adore my cats. We’re stuck in an imperfect world. Let’s not make it any worse.

      You’re absolutely right that my positions are inconsistent. That’s because I recognize that, again, we don’t live in a perfect world. People are going to eat eggs. So let’s let them buy them from farmers. That’s not my ideal way of living (eating eggs), but I understand that it is for many people, so, you know, live and let live. The farms that I know of in New Paltz don’t, mostly, keep chickens under the conditions you’re describing.

      I’m totally neutral about the Hawaiian birds–they’re cute, they’re there. I personally don’t mind the squawking. I just want people to know that (though, yes, the weather’s different), things have the potential to get crazy quickly.


  2. daveliepmann

    What does “animals don’t belong to people” have to do with me feeding my chickens and letting them roost in my shelter? Serious question. When they want to run away I let them–it happened once. Beyond a reductionist similarity to slavery, what’s the problematic part? Perhaps you mean acquiring them from the factory farm system at first, which is true. I was actually ignorant of that practice until after the fact, and regret not sourcing them better. But beyond that, which can be avoided, what’s the root issue?

    • lagusta

      For me it’s that we shouldn’t have domesticated these animals, and should now stop using them. Once upon a time humans needed animals to survive, so we did what all starving people do: we ate whatever we could. And so the cycle of animal domestication began. But now we can survive just fine (in fact, we thrive) without eating animals. So we have a moral obligation to stop doing so, because causing harm and death to someone unnecessarily is not a morally permissible thing to do. (And eating eggs means killing male chicks, as we all know by now.)

      You can argue forever that you’re providing a pretty sweet life for your chickens–as, indeed, I’m sure you are. Most likely it’s a safer and easier life than they would have in the wild. But it’s not a wild life, not a chicken life, and it never will be, because it can’t be. And that’s the root issue. You don’t have the moral right to decide how that life is lived. Alice Walker once said this great thing: “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men. That pretty much sums up my beliefs about the issue. Whether or not animals are kept in large or small cages is not really my concern (though it is the concern of many animal rights people, which is good). My concern is that there are no more cages.

      I believe that when someone has ethical beliefs, they are morally obligated to speak up. So I laid out some reasons for why keeping chickens in New Paltz backyards isn’t a good idea. You guys really really REALLY hated my reasons. OK. We don’t share the same set of morals. That’s just life. But I’ll never stop fighting for you to come over to my side. It’s so much tastier. And: you can sleep at night.

      • daveliepmann

        You’re going to have to do better than “eating eggs means killing male chicks.” It did for me once, and it will not again, and there is certainly no practical requirement to link the two. Please try again.

        As for cages–my chickens aren’t in any. So again, think harder.

      • daveliepmann

        Right, and not a very good metaphor. Why?

        My chickens roam freely, eat off the land, and roost in a shed that I happen to close up in evening and open up in morning. (This prevents them being eaten by predators.) How is that a cage? In what way is it slavery? And here’s the big one–without falling prey to the naturalist fallacy, *how would this species being wild make their life better*?

      • lagusta

        Ah! It’s not about better. I did say you’re probably giving your chickens a better life than they would have in the wild (not that your chickens could ever be wild, I’m not saying that). (I doubt most back yard chickeneers are doing this, but alas). The point is trying to have some shred of what is right or normal, not “more comfy.”

      • daveliepmann

        I meant “better” in the context of your ethical system. So, whatever “more right” means to you.

        I must repeat that it sounds by your use of “more normal” like you’re entangling yourself in the naturalist fallacy.

  3. Brian

    There is a very good ethical argument to be made for not exploiting chickens or any animals. Lagusta has made some of those arguments here and elsewhere. I tend to agree with them, even though I do not fully adhere to those principles (I don’t eat chickens but I eat their eggs).

    The problem here is that first, you are not campaigning against this ordinance primarily on the basis of those arguments and second, those arguments don’t seem relevant to the issue at hand.

    If you are against lifting the ban because you are against the exploitation of animals generally, then make that case. Don’t confuse the issue with other claims about disease, predators etc., which appear to have little empirical support.

    But if you are motivated by the hope of eliminating the exploitation of animals, your position does not seem relevant to this ordinance. This is not a question of exploiting animals or not exploiting them, but rather, the manner in which they will be treated while they are being exploited for human use. I do not raise chickens and I am not an expert on that subject, but based on the evidence put forth by people with experience and on other material I have read, it appears that in most cases the exploited chickens are treated much more humanely in backyards than anywhere else. Factory farmers and back yard chicken raisers may both be violating the rights of these sentient beings (along with anyone who consumes their products), but the actual experience of the backyard birds would seem to be much better. I think others have established that it makes no sense to ban the backyard raising of chickens based on anecdotal cases of abuse, especially when the “norm” for chicken raising is unimaginably abusive.

    You could make the case that allowing backyard chickens will in some way increase the number of chickens being exploited, perhaps by ‘normalizing’ the practice and thus convincing some vegans to join the dark side. But that seems unlikely. Barring that, your campaign against lifting the ban seems counter to your own goals (which, again, I respect and to some extent share).

    In the meantime, I encourage those who support lifting the ban to make your case public–in letters to the editor and at the next public hearing. The NPT reported that no one showed up in support at the hearing. Elected officials can only respond to the voices they hear. I have read some very articulate arguments here and our representatives in office should hear them.

    • lagusta

      [When this post was offline, Brian and I emailed about this. Here, with his permission, is our exchange. It’s super messy and not exactly timed right, but such is the nature of life.]

      Brian: “There is a very good ethical argument to be made for not exploiting chickens or any animals.”

      Lagusta: Yay! So you agree with me. End of discussion.
      Seriously! We can’t halfsie it. Either you believe in exploiting chickens, or you do not.
      If you do, you are in favor of this ordinance.
      If you do not, you are not.

      Brian: I agree with you on the ethics of exploiting animals. That’s not the discussion that we’re having. This is a discussion of how those animals will be treated while they are being exploited.

      Lagusta: Fair ’nuff.

      Lagusta: In the beginning I tried to argue all these blah blah facts. There will be some good letters to the editor this week making all the points I honestly, can’t be bothered to make. Because I’m against animal exploitation, and that one fact makes all my points for me. End of story. Such a simple, simple, simple story.

      Brian: I think facts are important. Most people do. If you want to persuade people, you should bother with them. And there should be empirical evidence to support your claims (thus, making them facts). Otherwise, you open yourself up to the criticism that you are not truly interested in reasoned debate and that you are willing to fabricate claims to advance your position regardless of whether the claims are valid or not. You are free to do that, but you should expect that most people will object to that and dismiss your perspective all together, thus diminishing your ability to influence anything. That would be unfortunate because I think you have some truly important insights on these issues.

      Lagusta: Well, I certainly never fabricated any claims. I just don’t have the time to respond to every single point when there is a larger issue that, from my point of view, answers all the questions. But do I wish people who agree with me on this issue (hey you–you who come into my shop, stop me on the street, email me–speak up, would ya?) would jump in here, yeah.

      Well…my agreement with you on the ethics of animal exploitation does not logically lead to support for the ban. Just the opposite. Backyard chicken raising WILL NOT diminish or increase chicken exploitation. There’s no reasonable argument to suggest it would (unless, as I said, the practice persuades some to start eating chickens who would not otherwise, but that seems unlikely). So responsible backyard chicken raising won’t change chicken exploitation, but it will reduce the overall suffering as more are raised in a more humane manner. I am in favor of lifting the ban and in my assessment that is the most ethical position based on our shared values.

      I appreciate the fact that you’re active and concerned even though we don’t agree on the conclusion in this case.

      See, I think you actually do agree with me, if you’re being logical. (But actually, I think there’s a tiny flaw in your understanding of my position which means that we don’t really agree.)

      Brian: But my agreement with you on the ethics of animal exploitation does not logically lead to support for the ban.”

      Lagusta: If you think animals have rights, one of those rights is to not be kept. That’s all I’m saying. There are two issues here: my support of animal rights, and support of the continuation of the ban for that reason, and my support of best practices of animal husbandry since we do not live in a world in which animal rights are respected, which also lead me to support a ban.

      Brian: We could write this out with fancy logic symbols and if-then statements, but above you hint that you recognize that the situation is not so simple. You say you support animal rights, but fail to demonstrate the connection between the ban and advancing those rights.

      Lagusta: Well, the connection is that by not keeping chickens we are respecting their right not to be kept.

      Brian: If the same number of chickens are ultimately kept, then the ban is just about WHERE they will be kept; in a backyard vs a farm or factory. I am pleased that you acknowledge that “best practices in animal husbandry” is relevant. That’s what this is really all about. Initially you included claims about animal husbandry in back yards. That is relevant. But there does not seem to be good evidence to support the claims that backyard chickens will endure worse conditions than those raised elsewhere, thus our disagreement.

      Lagusta: I think there is evidence that it’s not best from an animal husbandry issue and an environmental issue. Here’s an experience a friend of mine relates from when she called Pinellas County (the model for the NP law):

      “approximately how many chicken related complaints had come in– “Plenty” she said. What was the nature of the complaints? “Garbage and trash – roosters” I said that I thought it was illegal to have roosters. “It is, but they have them anyway and we are down from 33 code enforcement agents to 9, so we can’t visit places anymore or act on the complaints.”
      How old is the law? “About two months old.”
      What do you think of the law, do you think it was a good law? She answered, “I think it was a poor choice.”

      It’s simply inappropriate for our town–particularly for the village!–regardless of whether or not you believe chickens have rights.

      Brian: Just the opposite. Backyard chicken raising WILL NOT diminish or increase chicken exploitation.”

      Lagusta: That’s a pretty sweeping statement! Are you saying that people having chickens in their backyard doesn’t change the total number of chickens being exploited in the world, since people are going to be eating eggs anyway? Yep, that’s certainly an argument. But see, here’s the thing: I have a voice in New Paltz. And I’m morally obligated to use that voice to support a ban on animal exploitation when I can. I don’t have much weight with the people who own factory farms.

      Brian: There’s no reasonable argument to suggest it would (unless, as I said, the practice persuades some to start eating chickens who would not otherwise, but that seems unlikely).

      Lagusta: Actually, I see that as *very very* likely. I talk to people every day who are all “I used to be vegetarian, but now I’m in a local meat CSA.”

      Brian: This is your best argument in my view. It seems to be the most consistent with the values you espouse. ‘Lifting the backyard ban will result in greater animal suffering because it will induce chicken eating among those who would not otherwise eat chickens.” This is logical, but I think we still lack evidence. I too, know some people who started eating meat because they felt more comfortable with it once they knew the source. But I know many more people who just stopped being vegetarians and it had nothing to do with eating animals that were raised in a more humane manner. In any case, this is all anecdotal. We lack real data to make such claims.

      Lagusta: I’d like to know more about these ex-veggies you know have who dropped their vegetarianism for seemingly no good reason!

      Brian: So responsible backyard chicken raising won’t change chicken exploitation, but it will reduce the overall suffering as more are raised in a more humane manner.

      Lagusta: This is the argument many of my vegan friends make. It’s a good one. But again: I’m in favor of animal rights. Not easing the suffering of animals in the short term in favor of supporting an ethical system that says animal exploitation in any form is OK. I’m for ending the use of animals by humans. Period. I’m playing the long game here, even though it sometimes hurts on this issue.

      Brian: This is key: you are not interested in easing the suffering of animals in the short term. I am. And I think most people are. Since the backyard ban will do nothing to end the exploitation of chickens since farms (factory or otherwise) won’t be affected, I feel that lifting the ban is worthwhile to reduce the suffering of at least some chickens. For reasons presented by others, the evidence suggests that most chickens will have better lives in backyards than under other conditions.

      I’ll end again stating my respect for your values and the fact that, for the most part, I agree with your general ethical position. I just don’t see any logical argument that leads from that position to one of supporting this ban.

      Lagusta: I’m confused as to how you don’t see that my position is the logical conclusion of yours…but that’s OK.

      Brian: I am in favor of lifting the ban and in my assessment that is the most ethical position based on our shared values.

      Lagusta: But we don’t *quite* share the same values, though. I so totally respect yours! They’re just not mine. We don’t really agree, but I’m totally fine with that.

  4. lagusta

    Wow, that exchange is REALLY difficult to read, because it’s not really consecutive. Sorry about that!


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