Raising chickens may seem like an odd occupation for a Gnostic. There is nothing more hylic than the little feathered automatons that make up a major portion of our food supply. Per Captia consumption in 2012 shows Americans eat about 250 eggs and 60 chickens per year. So, these little birds are a major reason Americans, at least, have physical bodies at all.
The average american chicken is raised in a factory farm. That means they're kept in facilities like the one in the picture: Long rows of chickens, 5 to 10 hens in each chage, packed as closely together as possible. The facility pictured here is an egg production facility. Hens produce eggs for 1 to 2 years, after which they are processed for dog food or chicken broth, or simply suffocated with carbon dioxide and discarded in landfills. Male chickens are of little utility to these facilities, so as chicks they are sorted, and the male chickens are disposed of in cruel manners. You can find more information about the process here.
Meat chickens are raised in a similar manner. The link above has information about these processes, but the main take away for me is the 'breed' used for meat production reaches slaughter weight in 6 to 8 weeks. Called the Cornish Cross, the birds put on weight at an astounding rate. However, they cannot breed, and in fact, if you keep them longer than 8 weeks, they put on so much weight they break their own bones. They have no ability to stop eating or growing.
This, to my mind, is an example of the problem of evil in gnosticism. We are trapped in an artificial system, most people in ignorance, some people know and are trapped in the system and can't get out, or won't take the necessary steps to get out. We know of one farmer who made a deal with a big chicken producer. The farmer signed a contract, and the producer brought in factory farm production methods, and now the farmer can't stand to go out to their barns anymore, but they can't escape the contract they signed, to mass produce 'organic, free range' chickens.
But to our mind, we need the system because there are no other options. How are we going to survive if we don't keep chicken going. If chicken goes to $8 or $12 dollars a pound, eggs to $5 or $6 a dozen, who's going to be making it, or buying it, how will people eat?
Our cost to raise chickens naturally is high. Chicken feed (especially organic) is not cheap, and we don't currently raise our own food. Natural and heritage breeds take longer to reach slaughter weight (15-20 weeks), so they eat more. Heritage breeds lay less frequently than the factory optimized birds, leading to less eggs. So raising chickens is not a money making prospect for our family.
However, chickens do have personalities. Differing breeds act differently. They are individuals. Limited, true. They're not as engaging or as smart as a turkey, or a dog, or even a cat. And to be honest, I don't want them to be too likeable, as in the end, they are destined for the table. But being engaged in the process of determining where my food comes from is fascinating, and rewarding, and heartbreaking. Animals die, from disease, from cold, from predation, from unknown causes. You keep a distance from the material form of the individual. The picture below shows two of our chickens, known as the Indigo Girls. They're always in the yard, scratching for bugs, for roots, following their chicks around.
Yet, you are tied into this web of life, this grand dance, that you can't help be involved in. The joy and cuteness of the chicks, the protectiveness of the hens, the preening agression of the roosters, the greed of all the animals when treats are given, the sharing of the parents, the whole panorama of existence is played out in microcosm in the chicken yard. To watch them is to gain insight into our own automatic responses, our own fights for food, for regard, for security.
And all of that is denied in factory farms. If you can, please get to know your local farmers, either in person, or at the farmer's market. It costs more, but the food you receive nourishes more than the body.