Respect for life
FondsGoetheanum makes substantial contributions to research into “dual purpose chickens”, helping to save thousands of freshly hatched chicks from the shredder. The project called “Hahn im Glück” (Happy Cockerel) has been a success story.
In the past it mattered little whether the chick that hatched from a brooding hen’s egg was male or female. The young hen would eventually become a layer in turn, while her brother was destined to be a broiler. This “dual purpose chicken” is now a thing of the past and found cackling on very few farms. The gender of a freshly hatched chick has become a matter of life or death.
Specialization at the cost of male chicks
What has happened? Breeding in recent decades has rigorously specialized chickens into two clearly distinguished types: one a specialist in egg-laying, the other in putting on flesh. The male chicks of the high-output laying hens have in consequence become no more than a waste product of egg production since they fatten up too little in ratio to the feed quantity consumed. One day after hatching, therefore, they are shredded or gassed. “Happy Cockerel” is the response of Swiss Demeter farmers to this silent drama. The guidelines of the project, initiated in the summer of 2016, state that as many male as female chicks must be reared, and that the brothers of laying hens also grow up under biodynamic conditions.
Happiness is having a life
What is “happy” about ending up as a Sunday roast? Or to put it differently, what makes a chick happy? Having a life. “Happy Cockerels” have a good environment, and supplement their normal feed by foraging directly in nature, eating grass, insects and worms. Anyone seeing a cheerful young cockerel running about on the meadow will take pleasure in its joy in life.
The long road to dual-use chickens
The “Happy Cockerel” project required preliminary research and the clarification of many questions as the first step toward a robust and resilient race of eco-fowls: the cockerels needed to put on enough chicken-flesh and the hens lay large enough eggs in sufficient quantity.
Biodynamic farmers also decided that the feed for the chickens must come from their own farm. The higher costs of chicken farming thus incurred are covered by a higher price for “Happy Cockerel” eggs. Part of this extra price goes into a fund that supports independent breeding of efficient dual purpose chickens. Further targeted research is urgently needed to develop ecologically sustainable dual purpose chickens. So far, however, it has not been possible to realize a dedicated project specifically for Switzerland.
Standing up for life
In 2017 biodynamic farmers decided that the “Happy Cockerel” guidelines would apply to all farms from January 2019. They are therefore the first organization in Switzerland to stand up unmistakeably for respect for life, and in doing so they respond to a deep wish of consumers.
Herman Lutke Schipholt, Happy Cockerel initiative