It began in July, when the Animal Place sanctuary asked an egg factory farm in California to consider giving them 3,000 hens who, at age two, were already too old to lay more eggs, rather than killing them.
The egg farm agreed, and the transfer began. Just over a month later, 1,150 of the new arrivals took off from California in a chartered plane from Hayward Executive Airport, and arrived in New York, safe and sound, on Thursday morning, September 5th.
Life for egg-laying hens at factory farms is hell. It starts when they’re a week old and part of their beak is cut off with a hot knife and without pain relief. That’s to stop them pecking at each other in the cramped conditions where they’ll spend the rest of their working lives. And it ends when, too old, weak and thin to be sold as food for humans, they’re killed in carbon monoxide chambers and sold for “by-products”.
But not these particular chickens. According to Animal Place:
“This is the first time adult birds have ever been flown across the country,” says Kim Sturla, Executive Director. “A generous donor offered to fly the hens across the country and we jumped at the opportunity.”
Nine sanctuaries and shelters will be taking in the 1,150 hens, adopting them out or keeping them permanently at their refuges. The remaining 1,850 are available for adoption through Animal Place in California. Those interested in adopting can visit www.animalplace.org.
The sanctuaries include Farm Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, United Poultry Concerns, SASHA, Lollypop Farm, VINE, and Coming Home Animal Sanctuary. Each of them is taking anywhere from half a dozen hens to 200.
This is not Animal Place’s first major chicken rescue.
Last year, we spearheaded the rescue of 4,460 hens from Turlock, California, where two farmers left 50,000 hens without food for more than two weeks. Over a year, we placed most of the hens we rescued into permanent homes through our Rescue Ranch adoption program.
Since 2010, more than 8,000 chickens – most from egg farms – have been saved and rehomed, avoiding unnecessary slaughter thanks to Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch.
In today’s world of factory farming, chickens are bred specially for different functions – to lay eggs or to be fattened as “chicken”. Hens raised to lay eggs have a different genetic makeup from birds raised for their meat. Most of the males who hatch in egg factories are quickly dispatched as useless. And once the females lose their ability to produce a profitable amount of eggs they serve no commercial use.
Many people who take up a vegetarian lifestyle assume that they’re doing good by giving up chicken and eating eggs and egg products instead. Not so. On balance, life is at least as bad, and arguably worse, for an egg-laying hen than for one who is raised for food. (The same goes for cows who spend their lives producing dairy products compared with those who are raised for meat.)
All the rescued hens who came to Animal Place will need special care. They’ve never walked around before. They’ve never even seen the sky. And at their new sanctuaries, they’ll need to be kept separate from other birds for a while.
But in less than a month time at Animal Place, they’d already begun to adjust to the natural world around them, and were enjoying their first-ever dust baths. It’s a natural behavior for chickens – one of the ways they groom themselves. And even though these birds had never seen any soil in their lives, they took to it instinctively.
Of the 3,000 hens in this latest rescue, Animal Place still has 1,850. Most of them are available for adoption through the sanctuary’s website.