On The Happiness of Chickens
Are our birds happy? We sometimes hesitate to use the word because happiness is a concept created by humans to express a human emotion. The truth is, we have no idea what’s going on in our birds’ heads!
Perhaps they do experience something like what we call "happiness." But probably not. That’s why the metric we aim for is not happiness but “chicken-ness.” Let us explain:
The vast majority of chickens today live in cramped, indoor conditions which prevent them from living any sort of natural life. They have little if any ability to express their natural instincts, or what might be called their "chicken-ness." They suffer, the land they live on suffers, and consumers who eat these birds will eventually see their own health suffer as well.
This is a tragedy, and it's a big reason why we started farming. We wanted to give our birds and our community an alternative by creating a local, healthy, and sustainable food source by means of pastured poultry.
It certainly makes us happy to farm and serve our community in this way. We’ll never know if our birds share that happiness, but we take joy in knowing their nature is never hindered.
It's a feeling that Joel Salatin elegantly sums up in his book, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God's Creation. In it he writes:
“The sheer mystery and majesty of heritage wisdom, contained in each cell, each mitochondria, instills in the farmer who respects and honors the pigness of the pig a daily emotional high. The satisfaction of being nature's nurturer always trumps the short-lived adrenaline high of being nature's conqueror."
As Mr. Salatin has evangelized for years, the wisdom and energy inherent to each animal is what we must let flourish as farmers and stewards of our land and livestock. Mere "happiness" pales in comparison to the infinite potential contained in each life force on the farm if allowed to fully express its true nature.
For our chickens, that nature is not complicated. It includes the freedom to hunt for bugs, grubs, and worms to dust bathing in the sand to just laying out in the sun and relaxing.
We know this is how its meant to be as we gaze at the land left behind by our birds each day. The grass grows back thicker and greener than it ever was before. The chicken-ness of the chickens creates more life thriving in its wake.
We can leave behind a healthier world if we are only willing to get out of nature's way. Happiness will surely follow.