Can Raising Chickens Be the Solution to Escaping Extreme Poverty?

From www.sustainablechick.com, by barbwebb
Can Raising Chickens Be the Solution to Escaping Extreme Poverty?

An letter to Bill Gates in response to his article, “Why I Would Raise Chickens”

First, I applaud the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation efforts to help eliminate poverty and all of the wonderful donations and programs that have been developed.  I do not seek to diminish or disregard the tremendous contributions that have been gifted to communities around the world.  The world would be a far better place if everyone followed your exceptional example.

I do wish to address a recent post by Bill Gates on gatesnotes.com entitled “Why I Would Raise Chickens.”  It appears that the feature was created to support a project entitled “Coop Dreams Giveaway” and is a personal commentary by Mr. Gates on why he would raise chickens if he lived in extreme poverty.

Can Raising Chickens Be the Solution to Escaping Extreme Poverty?

It’s a noble thought and I agree, there’s merit to this idea as one facet of helping to reduce poverty in select communities.  The feature, however, is riddled with misleading information and for anyone who has raised chickens, leaves the impression that Mr. Gates has very little concern for animal welfare (an impression I hope is not an accurate depiction that Bill Gates intended.)

I wish to address a few points directly in support of our dear feather-friends:

“It’s pretty clear to me that just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens.” – Bill Gates

As I’m obviously rather fond of chickens, I believe most people would benefit from learning how to raise chickens.  The experience provides much more than sustenance and profit.

However, Mr. Gates, while the person who is living in extreme poverty may be better off having a chicken, they may find it does not improve their situation. The chicken may not be better off, either.  Without proper education on the care and proper maintenance of chickens, you could easily be subjecting both chicken and owner to disease, bacteria (such as campylobacter and salmonella,) poor health, mistreatment of animals and a host of other health and well-being-related concerns.

The key factors missing from your entire article is that chicken owners need to be educated on the care of the chickens prior to owning and that chickens need a healthy, sustainable environment.  Even if both this crucial conditions are met, problems can still arise, but issues like disease, bacteria, poor health, and mistreatment will be curtailed when a healthy environment is present and a well-informed owner is tending to the flock.

“They (chickens) are easy and inexpensive to take care of.”  – Bill Gates

The ease of care and expense will vary greatly by breed, housing requirements, feed requirements, health concerns and how well educated the owner is on the proper care and handling of chickens.  If you live in an urban area, expenses will be higher due to supplement feed and the need for a fully functional coop set-up.  Space restrictions will also squelch the owner’s ability to breed and increase egg or meat production.

In addition, there are many things that are critical to know such as what plants are poisonous to chickens, how to diagnose and care for a sick baby chick or chicken, how to treat pasting, parasites, broken legs, cannibalism (yes it happens!) and a host of other complications that may arise when raising chickens.  All of these things can easily be taught, but for the well-being of the chicken and owner they need to happen PRIOR TO ownership.

“Many breeds can eat whatever they find on the ground (although it’s better if you can feed them, because they’ll grow faster). “ – Bill Gates

Did you truly write this statement Mr. Gates?  If so, it does illustrate your point clearly that you have not raised chickens.

First, chickens, by nature, are ground foragers.  They, do, however, have to have a desirable feast available to free-range adequately and receive the proper nutrients they need to thrive.   When they have an adequate diet, they grow as nature intended and the hens produce superior eggs.

Second, force-feeding a chicken supplemental foods to produce quick growth is not in the best interest of the chicken or the human who will later consume them.  Not to miss mentioning, supplementing feed will increase the expense of care for the chicken, cutting dramatically into any hope of profit for the owner.  Accelerating growth past the point nature intended can cause intense pain to the chicken, heart attacks, diseases and bone damage along with lowering the quality of the eggs and meat.

If you happen to also care about the controversial subject of GMO’s, most supplemental feed also contains grain and corn grown from crops of genetically modified seeds.

In addition to feed, water is a primary concern.  Chickens require a clean, healthy, and abundant water supply.  In an impoverished area where humans often do not have adequate access to fresh water sources, adding animals to the mix will increase problems, not solve them.

“Hens need some kind of shelter where they can nest, and as your flock grows, you might want some wood and wire to make a coop.” – Bill Gates

To quote myself, “Space is not something that should be compromised.  Chickens in too close quarters will be stressed, may have health problems and may develop ‘picking’ habits, meaning they will pluck feathers from the other chickens.” (pg 21, “Getting Laid: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens, Gardening and Preserving.” ISBN 1632280213)

Hens without proper nesting boxes will choose alternate spots to lay eggs which can cause contamination of eggs, broken eggs and diminish the hen’s desire to brood.

A resource that may offer further insight on understanding of the effects of over-crowding and force-feeding on chickens is the United Poultry Concerns organization http://www.upc-online.org/

Above and beyond what has already been addressed, there are plenty of safety concerns to consider for the welfare of the chickens such as exposure to rodents and other animals and proper ventilation.

“They’re a good investment.” – Bill Gates

Mr. Gates and I agree on this point for similar reasons but from my perspective for the added reason that chickens are excellent companions and allow owners to connect with nature in in a richly rewarding way.

The potential for an impoverished individual to earn additional money through the sale of chicken eggs or meat exists.  I’m not an economist, but might the problem with flooding the market with an excess of poultry could potentially mean lowering the profit, thereby refueling the poverty cycle?

On the up note, the impoverished family would have a sustainable food source available to them which certainly contributes to Mr. Gates points that chickens are empowering and may contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

To accomplish this in a reasonable manner, we must put the welfare of both the owner and chicken first.  I implore the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to please ensure that poultry education is in place and an adequate, healthy environment is available before willy-nilly handing out chickens to anyone in an impoverished situation.

I also hope that Mr. Gates will further his education on chickens, where he will no doubt be less likely to dispense potentially harmful advice and instead, find plenty more reasons to be excited about this subject!

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