Backyard Chickens Elicit A “Fowl” Reaction

MR. SAM LITZINGER

12:06:32
From WAMU 88.5 and American University in Washington, it's "The Animal House," connecting you with everything that concerns the animal world. I'm Sam Litzinger. On today's program, the daughter of an Oscar-winning filmmaker talks about her efforts to protect wildlife using the power of network television. Dr. Gary Weitzman is also here to answer your questions about pets and wildlife. First, across the country, some big city dwellers are waking to a sound like this.

MR. SAM LITZINGER

12:06:59
The reason? An exceptional surge in backyard chicken farming in large urban areas like Washington DC. As a result, some residents are -- well, crying foul. Joining us now with more on what she called a unforeseen byproduct of the urban chicken farming boom, Washington Post Reporter, Annys Shin. Glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."

MS. ANNYS SHIN

12:07:18
Oh, thanks for having me.

LITZINGER

12:07:19
So backyard chicken farming has become kind of a trend, I guess.

SHIN

12:07:23
Yes, definitely. Although the numbers are kind of hard to come by in terms of how many folks are doing this. It's definitely -- in terms of, you know, coops being sold and chickens being shipped out, it's definitely spreading.

LITZINGER

12:07:35
Why are they doing it?

SHIN

12:07:36
People do it because they think the eggs taste better and are more nutritious for them, and they see it as a way of saving chickens from factory -- inhumane conditions in factory farms.

LITZINGER

12:07:46
Are they doing it primarily for the eggs as opposed to the chicken meat?

SHIN

12:07:50
Yes. And this is sort of where the problem runs in with the roosters. People who are used to sort of growing up with chickens, which have told me the hens were for eggs, the roosters were for eating. But the urban chicken farmers don't seem to feel this way, and they get very attached to their chickens, so they're sort of like pets too, and they're not really comfortable with killing them.

SHIN

12:08:10
The thing is, where they're ordering the chickens from, from these hatcheries, the hatcheries will throw in some male chicks basically just to fill out the box and, you know, the urban chicken farmer is probably not experienced enough to be able to tell the difference, and so they don't find out that it's a rooster until it starts growing. The roosters are a problem for a number of reasons though.

SHIN

12:08:31
In addition to the sound, like for instance, there are jurisdictions here that allow hens but they don't allow roosters for that very reason, because of the noise. But then, if they're not willing to kill the animal, then, you know, they end up at shelters. Some people just let them out in the woods. I -- The reason I ended up doing this story is because on my neighborhood listserv in Silver Spring, I kept seeing emails for, you know, has anybody lost a rooster, there's one wandering around in my backyard, you know, in addition to like the lost cat, lost dog emails.

SHIN

12:09:00
And so then I found out that part of the reason is the shelters have a hard time placing them because even the sanctuaries that take chickens can only take so many roosters because otherwise they tend to fight each other, and can be a problem.

LITZINGER

12:09:15
There must be a whole new area for chicken and rooster rescue groups now.

SHIN

12:09:19
Well, actually, the two sanctuaries that serve our area, the two mains ones, have been around since the late '80s, taking in different kinds of animal, including birds. And so they've taken -- they've accepted chickens for many years. It's only in recent years that the backyard chicken farming boon that they've had this problem where they've run out of capacity basically to take any more roosters specifically. There are many campaigns going on in pretty much every county around here, including the district, to get restrictions lifted, and, you know, the tide is generally in their favor, so this problem could definitely multiply.

LITZINGER

12:09:57
Annys Shin is a reporter for The Washington Post. Thank you very much for being with us is "The Animal House."

SHIN

12:10:01
Thanks for having me.

LITZINGER

12:10:10
If you're thinking about giving your child a pet for Christmas, and a dog or a cat isn't really an option, Dr. Laurie Hess of the Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford, New York has a few suggestions on how to make the right choices for the child and the pet this holiday. Dr. Hess, glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."

DR. LAURIE HESS

12:10:26
Hi there.

LITZINGER

12:10:26
I would think there's, first off, a lot of prep work involved, because the temptation may be oh, I know my niece would love some kind of little animal, but, you know, that sort of doesn't take into account the niece and the family situation and everything else. You got to think this through in other words.

HESS

12:10:44
Yes, you do. You really don't want to rush out. That's what people do. They rush out and they see that beautiful bird in the window, or that really cool looking reptile, and they impulse buy, and that's what we try to discourage, because reptiles and birds and other exotic pets are a lot of care and they're a responsibility and you have to think it through.

HESS

12:11:03
Get some information, think about whether you have the time, whether you have the space, some of the animals take up more space than others. Think about how long the animal is going to live, you know, think about the finances, how much you have available to dedicate to this pet. I actually have written a wonderful list of considerations on pethealthnetwork.com.

LITZINGER

12:11:20
Talk about some of the animals that might make good pets that people may not typically think of.

HESS

12:11:26
Well, I think for our top choice of birds, I would recommend the Cockatiel. Cockatiels are very manageable little birds. They're very friendly, they're social. They recognize their owners. They talk a lot. They're interactive, and it's nice because they can live 20-something years. So if you want a long-term companion, it's a great bird. There's some reptiles that are terrific. We have the Bearded Dragon Lizard. It's a commonly seen lizard these days. It's very manageable for families in that it doesn't get very big. It only grows to about one or two feet long.

LITZINGER

12:11:57
How much space does it need? Does it need a huge tank?

HESS

12:12:00
No. It doesn't need a huge tank. It needs a few feet of tank, and it needs some bedding, and it doesn't need a mate, so it's pretty simple. You do have to think about the cage and the food and all of those things though if you're getting a reptile, because some of these animals do have very specific requirements. Some of them eat rodents. Some of them eat bugs and some of them eat produce, depending upon what kind of reptile you get. Bearded Dragons are actually omnivorous, meaning they eat some bugs and they eat some produce, but you have to be willing to feed them that.

LITZINGER

12:12:26
What's the best thing that a Bearded Dragon could eat in world?

HESS

12:12:29
Oh, probably for a Beaded Dragon it's a wax worm. It's kind of like a hot fudge sundae for us. It's fatty and delicious. (laugh) And there's a whole bunch of insects, but they need some produce too so you have to have time to, you know, go to that pet store and pick up those bugs and all that. But they're really, really useful little cute little pets, and they're interactive. They love to hang out in your lap, and they watch TV with you. And so as reptiles go, if you have an allergy or something like that to feathers or fur, reptiles are a great pet, and a Bearded Dragon is a great place to start.

LITZINGER

12:12:59
Where do you get them? Are shelters a source for any of these animals? Because on this program we always encourage people to look into their local shelters for animals that need homes. Do you find that could be the case here?

HESS

12:13:12
Yes, definitely. Again, going back to what's right for the holidays, I mean, you do want to do that research, and you should visit the shelter or the pet store or the breeder of whatever you're getting, but you really want to do it the right way. You don't want to rush out and buy that pet, and you should probably think about it before the holiday. You want to pick, you know, a pet that's right for you. They're all great in different ways, but not every single one is great for every family.

LITZINGER

12:13:35
Some really good tips. Dr. Laurie Hess operates the Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford, New York, and is a contributor to pethealthnetwork.com. Thank you very much for being with us is "The Animal House."

HESS

12:13:45
Thank you so much for having me.

MR. MICHAEL STEIN

12:13:47
For "The Animal House," I'm Michael Stein and this is BirdNote. About now, adult volunteers across Canada and America begin counting the winter birds of their area for the century old Christmas Bird Count or CBC. Their inventories provide Audubon and others in the birding community valuable information about the number and distribution of the birds.

MR. MICHAEL STEIN

12:14:10
Tom Russert and Darren Petrie of Sonoma, California, however, felt something was missing. Here's Tom.

MR. TOM RUSSERT

12:14:17
So basically we said let's start a Christmas bird count for kids. During the holidays when families are together, and we wanted something to be almost old-fashioned, that the holiday season is not just about being in the mall. We want to celebrate the earth. We want to celebrate our feathered friends.

STEIN

12:14:38
Now, from Alaska to Florida, communities and organizations can start or join a CBC for kids in their hometown. Young people and their parents go out for 90 minutes on a preset route.

RUSSERT

12:14:51
They're moving as a team. Now, one has a recorder, one has a clipboard with the birding lesson. The parents normally hold the bird field guide. The beauty of it all is, when they come back for the tabulation celebration, and I simply ask them, how many total birds did you count, what was interesting about the habitat, and what was the coolest thing that happened today? And, I mean, these kids are just busting open, but the bottom line at the end of the day is, when the kids and their parents share the excitement of being outdoors, it changes the heartbeat of a family.

STEIN

12:15:28
To get started, begin at birdnote.org. Tom and others are standing by to help you.

LITZINGER

12:15:37
In a few moments, Dr. Gary Weitzman will join us with answers to your questions about pets and wildlife. First though, let's learn about our Animal of the Day, which is the most populace of all avian species. Its origins trace back to India where it was domesticated 4,000 years ago. Now there are 24 billion worldwide. Can you identify this species? We'll have the answer just before the end of today's program. Next week in "The Animal House," a crisis in America's animal shelters.

MR. STEVEN LATHAM

12:16:06
Eight million cats and dogs, these are our companion animals that are going into shelters every year, and the other alarming statistic is half of those are being euthanized in America's shelters. And if your shelter is full, then your community has a problem.

LITZINGER

12:16:22
Award-winning filmmaker Steven Latham talks about his documentary "Shelter Me," next week in "The Animal House."
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