Do chickens make you look poor? August 30, 2013

This week, the “Listen Lissa” chicken advice column got a few queries about  the “news” story regarding the weirdest argument against backyard chickens, yet: chickens make you look poor. Wait, what?

Do chickens make you look poor? No.

You look fine in that dress! Pay no attention to the Mean Girls. (Photo courtesy of the Hot Tomato Pinup Academy.)

It’s true: apparently there is a subset of people who believe that  you should not keep chickens because “chickens make you look poor.” Wowza. I think people who make this “argument” must be the outer fringe of the false “reduced property values” argument, which we’ve debunked before. Even so, I feel as if I have to take issue with “chickens make you look poor” for two reasons:

1. Firstly, saying chickens make you look poor is patently untrue. There are some amazing, high end chicken coops out there. Chickens are often kept by very wealthy people in exclusive neighborhoods. Martha Stewart keeps chickens. Jennifer Anniston keeps chickens. And whatever your opinion of those individuals may be, I don’t think you can reasonably claim that they look poor because they keep chickens. Chickens are kept by people who are well-off… and also by poor and middle class people. How this could be a surprise is sort of beyond me. Sometimes chickens may make you look sort of like a Tolkien geek:

Or they may make you look as if you have a great sense of style:

Chickens don't make you look poor when you have a coop like this!

The cute-as-a-button Alexandria coop

Some coops may not be immediately distinguishable from dog houses, until you happen to notice it’s being used by chickens!


The popular Eglu Go coop

Even a coop that houses more than a few hens can be beautiful and add to your home’s curb appeal:


The Elizabeth coop houses 10 – 14 chickens–beautifully

Clearly, pet chickens are no more an indicator of wealth than pet dogs are. Granted, if you’re not wealthy, you’re not going to have that $100,000 luxury chicken coop from Neiman-Marcus in your backyard. But you’re also not going to have the $30,000 “hacienda” dog house in your backyard, either. Does having dogs make you look poor? Maybe. If you keep them in squallor. The same thing goes for chickens: the bottom line is that chickens can be lovely whether you spend tens of thousands of dollars on them or next to nothing. They won’t make you look richer OR poorer than you are. Keeping pet chickens is not going to change your neighborhood any more than keeping cats or dogs will. What does matter is whether the people who keep chickens (or dogs or cats) are good, conscientious caretakers.That brings us to issue number two I have with the “chickens make you look poor” business.

2.  Making an objection to keeping chickens on the basis that “chickens make you look poor” assumes the implicit premise that “poor” is an insult. While I can say with reasonable certainty that few people actively aspire to poverty for obvious reasons, wealth is just not a circumstance individuals have absolute control over. Some people are born with wealth, and others without—and socioeconomic mobility is actually relatively low in the US, when compared with Canada and Western Europe. Remember, being financially disadvantaged just means you don’t have much money. It doesn’t mean you don’t have taste or that you’re some sort of villain.

Ugliness and evil are not concentrated in the poor. Wealthy people can be jerks just like poor people can; in fact, study after study shows that people with less wealth are statistically nicer. As one researcher put it, “lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.” So to use “poor” as an insult just rankles me, since people who are economically disadvantages are usually more likely to be, well, nicer and more compassionate. And compassion is an important quality to possess when caring for animals.

For instance, living in a $2.4 million dollar home didn’t magically shelter the dogs and cats of the Tamis family from animal cruelty. Frank Saracino, deputy chief of law enforcement for the animal cruelty task force that investigated the Tamis case explained that “… animal cruelty is everywhere. It can be in a small house in the inner city or a 12,000-square-foot mansion out here. It’s everywhere.” Likewise, deplorable taste can exist in any economic circumstance, and is subjective in any case.

Is this billion dollar home beautiful or terrible? Is this tiny cottage belonging to chicken keepers a nightmare or a dream come true? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. If you have lots of money or very little, you can spend it as you like.

Does this glorious August sunrise indicate whether our West Virginia farm is rich or poor?


Hint: the answer DOES NOT rhyme with kitsch.

Does a laundry line make you look poor, or frugal and resourceful?

laundry line

Or does it remind you, like it does me, of your grandmother? I used to hang laundry with my (well-to-do) grandmother on summer days. There’s no substitute for sheets that have been dried in the sun.

What about home canning? Poor, or “lawsie, that looks yummy”?

rainbow of jams

Blackberry, Mulberry, Strawberry, Plum, Peach and Pawpaw


So… do chickens make you look poor?

I can’t say for sure. I certainly lean to “no”… but I guess it all depends on your perspective.  If you’re not especially informed, or if you  have skewed values, your gut answer might be “yes.” One thing I do know: even if I were to hit the lottery, I’d be hanging laundry and keeping chickens. And I certainly wouldn’t be worried that “chickens make you look poor.”

Susan Tappin August 30th, 2013

This is right up there with the gated communities that won’t let 1/2 ton, or SUV or jeep type vehicle owners leave them in their driveways. Good Lord! People are schmucks & make me want to spread fresh manure for fertilizer on my front lawn. Thank the good Lord I live on a farm in the country cuz besides the chickens we have all kinds of critters roaming around!

Devyn August 30th, 2013

I hate how people take on the stereo type, “Oh, you keep chickens, you must not have enough money for eggs.” No, we keep chickens for more delicious, healthier eggs and less animal cruelty in factory farms. And we spend more on the chickens than the cost of eggs anyway.

Jessica August 30th, 2013

Perhaps we who keep chickens are rich in spirit and wealthy in health. We are for sure not paying an expensive psychotherapist as all we have to do is go outside to watch our lovely chickens to relax and feel blessed at the beauty of nature that surrounds us. Something most “rich” folks have to pay to achieve. Poo on you!

Darcy September 6th, 2013

Well stated Lissa! I also couldn’t agree with Jessica more. My flock provides me with endless hours of entertainment, which, let me tell you, far surpasses everything my 48″ flat screen has to offer! My flock free range in my backyard, and spend their nights in a custom 12′ x15′ coop that truly could house a small family. Everyone I know enjoys fresh, organic eggs, and only roll their eyes a little bit when I enthusiastically launch into a new tale of the latest chicken antics. I have not once ever worried that keeping my 22 chickens makes me appear “poor,” only that it makes me appear “kooky!” I can’t imagine living without my chickens. I can only speculate that these same people who think chickens make you “look poor” have never lived with any.

Lissa September 6th, 2013

Haha. I don’t mind looking a little kooky. I’m nerdy enough to have lost that battle long before my chickens came along. 🙂

Stevee Salazar September 10th, 2013

Jealousy can sure bring out the worst in people! Everyone who walks past my house and sees my chickens say how wonderful they are… And even if they would say negative things, I wouldn’t pay them any attention because I know the truth. My chickens are awesome! All together I could probably buy a used car with all the money I’ve put into my chicken hobby!

Shannon October 18th, 2013

I thought I’d heard it all… As a first-year farm girl, all I can say is my chickens are a joy and delight. They are waaaay more expensive to care for than buying eggs at the store, but their company is priceless. More and more people seem to be longing for a simpler, more connected and contented life, and I think having chickens is a great way to find some of that.

Cally August 17th, 2014

Does owning a lap dog make you look like you can’t afford a big one? Or- O_O do you just like lap dogs?

Eric August 28th, 2014

This is Funny since “chicken fancy” and similar animal breeding competitions have been popular with Royalty in the past and have been popular with nobility since the Victorian era. I highly doubt that keeping chickens makes you look poor when this site sells chicken breeds that where once kept only by nobility.

[…] the social misconceptions associated with keeping a backyard flock. Such as Lissa’s post: Do chickens make you look poor? Yet, the humble chicken always finds its way back into our backyards and hearts.  When I read this […]

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