The White House South Lawn is home to an 1,100-square-foot vegetable garden, a productive beehive, and an efficient composting system. If the Obama administration earns a second term, might we next see a backyard chicken coop?
That was the question posed to White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses during a tour of the inspirational vegetable gardens last weekend for members of the Association of Food Journalists. "Hens at the White House? I don't see it," he initially answered. When pressed as to why a small egg-laying operation would be a problem, the chef added that animal rights organizations would likely throw a fit over caged birds.
"I would love it," Yosses said. "But there's so much scrutiny in the White House, it has to be something (unprovocative), like a garden. It's jaw-dropping isn't it? We live in a warped world."
As any backyard chicken owner will tell you, benefits of keeping the birds extend beyond their eggs. Not only do the birds devour kitchen scraps and produce useful manure — but they're also skilled at reducing garden pests that might otherwise be treated with chemicals.
But as Yosses cautions, there are those who feel keeping chickens is not as inhumane as some assume, particularly when one considers the fate of the rooster.
"For a demographic so enamored with the 'natural,' people are hopelessly ignorant about basic biology and chicken behavior," says Britton Clouse, owner of a shelter for roosters rounded up after cockfighting busts. "They all apparently missed biology class when the 50-50 principle that determines sex was taught. Otherwise intelligent people assume there is a magic process by which only hens are produced. Most never stop to wonder what happened to the boys."
Adds Becky Striepe from Care2: "About 50 percent of the chicks that hatch are male, so for every female chick running around in your backyard, a male was killed, often not in the most humane way (if you believe that you can kill anything humanely)."
Since chickens can live up to 15 years, well after they've stopped laying eggs, the White House would also have to be okay with having animals that are no longer producing something for the kitchens. That — or they're eaten, which would create its own public relations complications.
Should the White House staff choose to go the chicken route, they will also have to comply with D.C. backyard chicken rules, which require residents to apply for a permit (including gaining neighbors’ approval), as well as pass an inspection.
Something tells me Michelle Obama might be able to pull a few strings to make that happen.
What do you think? Should backyard chickens earn a place on the White House South Lawn, or should the Obamas stick to growing veggies and keeping bees? Hit the comments below to share!
Related backyard chicken story on MNN: Jennifer Aniston raising backyard chickens