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  • Writer's pictureChristina Swaan

Keeping Predators and Prey

Updated: May 26, 2022

I am going to preface this post with a reminder that CROC houses and cares for both vegetarian, and carnivorous animals. My facility is not a nonprofit sanctuary, and most of our animals are not vegans. As such, sustaining the lives of many of my animals results in the end of another’s.

Keeping a variety of species means providing a wide range of habitat, care, and dietary resources to ensure their optimal health and well-being. Summer time is a great time of year for many of my herbivores, since natural forage such as leaves, weeds, and fresh vegetables are plentiful. For the meat eaters - providing a supply of fresh food regularly is a little more complicated, and presents to me some moral conundrums.

Traditional pets (like cats and dogs) have access to a huge variety of already-prepared feasts that can easily be purchased at any retail pet or grocery store. Owners of domesticated pets rarely need to put much thought into where their pet's food comes from, and the nicely uniform, baked pieces of kibble make it easy to forget that many of these foods are from animals who may be just as emotionally complex as the pet we are feeding. This disconnect and convenience in packaging makes it easy for even the most dedicated of vegetarians to provide quality foods to their carnivorous or omnivorous companion pets without having to compromise on their own personal dietary lifestyles.

Many exotic animal keepers do not have the luxury to deny what their pets eat, since providing for these essentially wild animals means sourcing food similar to what they would eat in nature. Most carnivorous species require fresh raw meats & whole prey items to survive, and some individuals may even require LIVE prey from time to time. As such, it is the predatory animal keeper who must directly source and provide other animals for their pets to eat.

While us humans have the choice to adopt lifestyles and dietary models that do not include consumption of animals, It is a tough fact of life that nearly all other species MUST rely on the death of others to survive. As a keeper of a wide variety of predator and prey species, I have had to make decisions on which animals under my roof are "pets" or "food." and although many of my animals are safe from ever becoming a meal to another (or ourselves) - this same guarantee is not always extended to the poultry that are raised on our property.

Yes, it is true - I occasionally feed our own chickens to other animals. Admitting this fact is no doubt going to bring on haters and judgement, but it is a necessary act to sustain the lives of some of the animals I keep.

I care a lot about my chickens, and invest a lot of time, energy, and resources into their care. As far as poultry go they could certainly be considered "spoiled" compared to many of their kind. They receive high quality food and treats, ample room to roam around, safe and secure housing, regular veterinary care, and individual attention and kindness. We care for them primarily as pets, many have names, and the 5 ethical standards of animal welfare are always considered in their upkeep... but at the end of the day they are a prey species, and one that has been specifically selected over thousands of years as food for humans and animals alike. Nearly every carnivorous domesticated and wild animal will happily feast on chickens or their eggs, making poultry an ideal meat source for a wide range of exotic pets. Additionally their overproduction of eggs also makes them a valuable contributor to our own family's food supply in a time where grocery costs are skyrocketing and food security is an ever-growing concern.

Although I could spare myself from having to get my hands dirty and instead purchase feeder animals outside of my own flock, there are very strong reasons for raising my own birds for this particular purpose. Doing so not only significantly reduces the costs to operate and maintain my other animals, but I can also ensure that the “food” are cared for under higher standards of welfare and ethical treatment than those typically forced to endure the extreme suffering and environmentally disastrous commercial meat farming operations. I continuously strive to ensure that all of of my birds have a really good life right up until one last "bad day" when they are dispatched quickly and with minimal suffering or distress... a luxury not often afforded to animals who spend their final moments in slaughter houses, or those who have to fight to avoid predation and survive in the wild.

For some people the thought of caring for some animals while simultaneously raising others to kill is a tough concept to grasp, but my goal has always been to foster RESPECT for all species (even those that are sometimes eaten) in order to gain a greater appreciation for all the roles they play on this planet. By respecting animals for what they are - whether they are predator or prey, ferocious or cuddly - and acknowledging the challenges all creatures face in the fight to survive on this diverse and complicated planet, I believe we can form closer relationships to nature and better understand the ways that our own interactions impact the lives of the animals around us.

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