I liked your Editor’s Comment in the April issue of WATT PoultryUSA, “Don’t dismiss backyard chickens." We have a lot of backyard enthusiasts in the Northeast. I really liked your premise that backyard chickens should not be dismissed.
One issue that is often overlooked is the importance of backyard flocks, and other small agricultural enthusiasts, on agricultural infrastructure. Although they don’t buy a lot of agricultural support products individually, they do use considerable feed, small equipment, and supplies that help to keep many of the agricultural support industries viable. They also help to keep alive, and in some cases reinvigorate an agricultural “culture” in the general population. These issues should matter a great deal to the large agribusinesses.
As agriculture becomes even more industrialized it loses its grass roots support. Small flocks, hobbyists, and gardeners help to maintain at least a minimum of agriculture infrastructure which includes both the distribution of goods and services (feed, equipment, supplies) as well as a knowledge base within the population. It is also these groups that are putting more demands on our traditional agricultural information systems (extension programs) and who are keeping farm issues on local, state and national agendas.
We sometimes look down on these groups because they don’t make their primary income from agriculture. Even today, a great deal of fresh food is produced locally on very small plots. In the U.S. a significant portion of animal production is by part-time farmers who hold regular day jobs and farm after hours and on weekends.
As viable family farms disappear, so does the support network and knowledge base. This new breed of small farmers (hobbyists?) may be our best way of keeping that culture alive. There are definitely some short-term issues and conflicts, but in the bigger scheme we need to support and encourage these small operations.
Daniel L. Fletcher, Ph.D.
Professor and Department Head
Department of Animal Science
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269-4040