I just got home from my internship in Grass Valley two days ago and I miss it so much. I learned so many things about animals and the industries that harm them, far more than I knew coming in.
Animal Place is well known for their large scale chicken rescues. They go into egg farms when they’re about to “depopulate” hens and Animal Place rescues as many as they can, giving them a chance at a long, happy life. Depopulating in CA means the hens are tossed in large garbage bins and then gassed until they die. Hens on the bottom often suffocate from the weight of the dying hens on top of them. Those who manage to pop to the surface have their necks broken. All of this is because their egg production has started to decline. This is so symbolic of how society views chickens, as something to use, abuse and then toss away like garbage.
When AP goes in to rescue the hens they rehabilitate them, deworm, de-lice and vaccinate them and then they’re adopted out to good homes. Many go on to live several more years. The people they adopt out to, commit to keep the hens for the rest of their lives and take them to a vet if needed (many still use the hens for their eggs) so they’ll never be unnecessarily killed. Most of this takes place at AP’s original location in Vacaville, CA called Rescue Ranch. This system of rehabilitation and adoption has allowed them to save nearly 17,000 hens!! That’s so many lives spared from further harm.
I’ve seen many people share AP’s video of hens being liberated for the first time in their lives from cages, but I think for many people they still fail to grasp the significance of that event. The most recent rescue (in July of 2015) was from a battery cage egg farm of white leghorn chickens (like the two pictured closest to the camera above). They were about a year and a half old. That’s a year and a half in a cage. That’s all they knew of life. Crowded, Dark, Uncomfortable Bars with no sunlight, no dirt to bathe in and no freedom to stretch their legs or wings. That’s unfathomable to most people but it’s a fate we force onto these babies every day. When they first pop out of those transport crates it’s more than just a cute moment, it’s the first time they get to be a chicken. It’s the first time they get the basic comforts we take for granted.
Chickens don’t produce eggs for humans. They produce eggs to be the next generation of chickens. Through genetic manipulation we’ve taxed their poor bodies beyond repair. Chickens would naturally produce between 20-30 eggs a year, but now they produce about 300! That’s almost an egg a day! There’s many consequences to that. Chickens have the second highest rate of osteoporosis, the first being humans, so they often suffer from fragile bones and fractures. This is because the overproduction of eggs leaches calcium out of their body (and the reason that AP feeds the eggs back to the chickens-great source of calcium). They also frequently suffer from reproductive problems such as prolapse, which is basically like their reproductive organs coming out of their body.
Prolapse (pictured above) in one of the rescued hens by an AP volunteer.
All of this we put hens through and for what? Humans definitely don’t need to eat eggs to survive and we can easily chose just to eat something else that doesn’t cause such harm.
Hens aren’t the only ones who suffer for eggs though. When chickens first hatch from their eggs their sexed into male and female and all the males are killed at birth. Chickens raised for meat are much different from those for eggs and so male chicks are deemed worthless and they’re killed either through being ground alive or suffocated in bags.
Chickens naturally talk to their babies when they’re still in the egg. This is important so that when the babes hatch they recognize their mother’s voice and go straight to her. Sometimes other hens and roosters aren’t so kind to baby chicks so its important they recognize their mother’s voice. In the egg industry all chicks are hatched in artificial incubators. All they know of the world is silence. We deprive them of their mother’s voices.
The chicks are debeaked almost immediately, which involves severing the tips off their beaks (you will notice many in the pictures with this). Their beaks have nerves all the way to the tip so this is like cutting off a segment of ones finger – without anesthesia. This leaves them with trouble eating and properly grooming (why many of the white hens may appear mangy). This is done because they’re kept in such tight quarters that they don’t want the hens pecking each other to death.
When I first came to AP I had never met a chicken before. They grew on me quickly. Watching the chickens is so much fun because you can see them figuring out the world. They cock their head and eye you, taking you in and seeing if you pose a threat.
They fight and play with other chickens, chasing each other around the yard, hanging in cliques and establishing dominance. They all have distinct personalities, there’s the boisterous rooster crowing his head off, there’s the hen who sneaks in underfoot to grab some food. They’re engaging, curious and intelligent animals. When a chick hatches from their egg they can already count to five! (smarter than human babies for sure haha)
Some of them are so sweet and love to sit on laps and get stroked. Others like their personal space, and who can blame them after what humans put them through. It’s a miracle any of them still like humans.
When people complain about vegans or AR activists I wonder why? I’m speaking up for animals who are silenced every day. They need our help. We can do something about animal exploitation so why shouldn’t we? It feels like a moral obligation to stop suffering – whether animal or human. Eggs are fraught with suffering and even those from backyard hens are not ours to take. Eggs belong to chickens, not humans.
They are all someone – not something. They are not ours to abuse and use.