Domestic breeding and environmental benefits

Domestic breeding and environmental benefits


Money savings and personal satisfaction produced by urban gardening have allowed people to rethink chicken breeding in a “more local” way: in many US and Canada cities people can grow their own hens in their backyard, just as they would do with tomatoes or salad in their kitchen garden.

This tendency was accelerated by the outbreak of salmonella in 2010, that led to the nationwide recall of 500 millions store-bought eggs, thus driving down the perception of their being risk-free; and now it has become a way to have a larger control on the food we eat everyday, while cutting energy use and fuel emissions for the trasportation of eggs from farms to cities.

Julie Simpson, president of the pro-chicken group Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville, in an e-mail to the New York Times says: “It simply made sense to me to have a few chicken in my backyard. I was concerned about where my food was coming from, and having backyard hens was one small thing I can control”.

Buying chicks is easy and cheap, so most of the potential problems depend on having too many chickens in too little space. For this reason, some cities, such as Nashville and Portland, have approved motions that allow urban hen breeding, but with a limitation in the number of hens, calculated in reason of the land extension. These limitations found the approval of Pamela Geisel, director of the statewide Master Gardener Program run by the University of California Cooperative Extension, that says they “can help chicken keepers be better chicken keepers”, allowing them to avoid bigger risks.

Hens breeding it’s not just collecting fresh eggs for your breakfast, but it is a heavy daily effort to keep them clean and healthy, and for some people it’s not just worth the effort. But not for Ms. Geisel: “I love my chickens. They’re my pet” she says about her six backyard hens. “And homegrown eggs”, she added, “are so much better and tastier than store-bought”.

These eggs are not only tastier and healthier: they are far more enviroment-friendly and sustainable. In facts, eggs are in the top ten products with higher carbon footprints: the production and distribution in supermarkets of 1 kilo of eggs produces an average of 4.8 kg of greenhouse gases, that is the equivalent of 11 car miles. Also, more than half of the emissions (2.7 kg) are made only in the transportation phase, that is completely eliminated in case of urban breeding.

Not only an increase in food security and a decrease in damaging emissions: domestic chicken breeding is likely to be free from the ethical dilemma produced by intensive industrial farming. The domestic breeder is likely to develop some sort of an affection for his/her pet chickens and hens, and will probably avoid brutal practices such as the detention in barren battery cages, or the genetical selection. 

In the broader framework of a local program that endorses community gardening and urban farming, these practices could significantly cut down greenhouse gases emission, by operating a substantial reduction in the need of goods transportation. Moreover, urban farms and community gardens could also work as carbon sinks: in facts plants (especially the evergreen ones) absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and release breathable oxygen (O2) through photosynthesis, thus relieving the carbon accumulation that is innate in urban areas. 

In addition, plants absorbe and remove particulate matter, the result of the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles and power stations, classified by the WHO as one of the most dangerous carcinogenes. Given this statement, is easy to say that this cleaning action carried out by community gardens could reduce mortality rates in urban areas. To give an example of plants effectiveness in pollution abatement, Bradley Rowe in his essay states that “just one square meter of uncut grass on a city roof is needed to offset the annual particulate matter emissions of a car“.

Gwan-Gyu Lee, Hyun-Woo Lee and Jung-Hwan Lee have shown in their essay that the spreading of urban agriculture in Seoul, one of the most advanced cities in terms of collaborative and sustainable governance of the commons, has reduced the greenhouse gases emission by a rate of 11,668 tons per year. This value is the equivalent of  the CO2 emissions for 1155 persons on the annual basis of 10.1 tons of CO2 emissions per capita (2007 data), and it has been achieved with a urban agriculture area of just 51.17 square kilometers, which is about half the extension of rooftops in New York City.


L’allevamento domestico di galline e polli è una pratica sempre più diffusa negli Stati Uniti, che permette di controllare maggiormente il cibo che mangiamo ed eliminare problemi etici come i trattamenti abominevoli subiti dagli animali negli allevamenti intensivi. Nel quadro più ampio di un programma di incentivo all’urban farming e al community gardening, queste pratiche potrebbero avere un impatto significativo sulla riduzione del carbon footprint e sulle emissioni di gas serra, per la gran parte dovute al trasporto delle merci dai luoghi di produzione ai supermercati.