Vegan Gray Areas: Eggs From Backyard Chickens

I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m not getting into the health aspect of whether eating eggs is good or bad. The focus of this is purely from an ethical standpoint in the case of backyard chickens, not those from factory farms.

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

For many homesteaders, having backyard chickens is a staple of the lifestyle. Some use the chickens for meat/eggs and occasionally you may even have a show chicken on your hands. The moral ambiguity in regards to killing and eating the chickens themselves is not up for debate in the vegan community, so I won’t be addressing that here. This is about “gray areas” after all. I had a conversation with someone once who said she eats the eggs from her chickens (and ducks), but when they stop laying they get to “retire” and live out the rest of their days. So, in a specific circumstance like this, is it still ethically wrong to consume the eggs?

One possible issue is the matter of where the birds came from in the first place. Often they are purchased from a hatchery. While the chickens would most likely experience a higher quality of life in someone’s backyard, by purchasing them through a hatchery you would be contributing to the demand for more breeding and the unethical business practices that follow. If they were from a rescue/sanctuary then the consumer isn’t showing support for the commercial industry financially or otherwise.

So if the chickens aren’t being killed for meat and the owner isn’t financially supporting hatcheries, is there still an ethical dilemma? It comes down to whether or not you deem exploitation as a legitimate concern.

Something I was uneducated on before recently was how our breeding practices have drastically changed the quality of life for many animals. The number of eggs a chicken will lay can vary wildly because of breed, age, living conditions, nutrition, etc. That being said, in the United States a domesticated chicken will lay around 280 eggs per year. On the other hand, wild fowl lay closer to 10-15 eggs per year. Since we domesticated chickens around 2000 B.C. we have selectively bred them to lay more and more eggs. The result of this is an increase in health risks and life-threatening conditions, such as egg yolk peritonitis. If you’re interested in reading more about this condition, I’ve provided a link down below.

While this is motivation for different breeding practices and further reason to not support those who do the breeding, there’s not much that can be done about the fact that the chickens who are here lay this increased number of eggs. So, since the eggs are here you have to decide what’s the most ethical thing to do with them. Some people make the decision to allow their chickens to eat the eggs they lay, including the shell. I couldn’t say if a chicken would be interested in eating every egg they hatch or if all chickens are guaranteed to have any interest in eating them at all. Regardless, it seems like an option worth exploring.

To summarize my thoughts, I’ll say eggs (no matter where they come from) are not vegan because they’re an animal product. However, there are other considerations that may make them an ethical choice to either consume or give away. If you have backyard chickens and they lay eggs that are rotting and going to waste, I see this as a missed opportunity. Even if you don’t want to eat them yourself, they could be given to someone who would normally spend money supporting the hatcheries. Or perhaps donate them to a soup kitchen. You could even feed them to your cat. This is a pretty specific set of circumstances, but if you find yourself fitting into it, I would encourage you to find a good use for the eggs before you allow them to go to waste on some frigid sense of principle. 

Even PETA sees the difference.

“As an animal rights group, we cannot condone using animals for any reason, which is why PETA promotes a healthy vegan lifestyle. However, we would not oppose eating eggs from chickens treated as companions if the birds receive excellent care and are not purchased from hatcheries.”

From <https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/is-it-ok-to-eat-eggs-from-chickens-ive-raised-in-my-backyard/>

Sources:

https://extension.psu.edu/history-of-the-chicken

Click to access ckegan19.pdf

Click to access about-chickens.pdf

More about Egg Yolk Peritonitis: http://www.theveterinaryexpert.com/backyard-poultry/egg-yolk-peritonitis/

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