Last year I decided to bring some rescue chickens home from the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT). The BHWT take the hens from farmers once they are no longer economically viable. This is when the farmers would normally discard them, or send them off to make compost or cat food. (Yes, we are talking about the treatment of real life living sentient beings). This normally takes place at around 15 months old. At 15 months these egg laying chickens are effectively still babies. Compared to chickens farmed for the meat who normally are slaughtered at 35 DAYS old!
Anyway I wanted to give the opportunity for 3 chickens to experience some freedom. These chickens after all had never felt the grass beneath their feet, drawn in fresh air, or seen the sunrise or sunset. So, that was my project. Invested in a chicken house and run, food and all the other bits and bobs. I arranged the date and picket them up. The BHWT are very friendly and make the whole process as easy as possible.
I arrive at the day and queue up to pick up the hens. They are in a poor state. I wonder if they will even survive the journey home. Apart from the stronger one (top of the pecking order I assume) who I soon called Betty, Offred and Heather are more or less featherless, their combs floppy and pale and look like they have given up on life. This day I felt a lot of anger towards people, such as my friends and family who are the cause of this but I understand that anger isn't useful. Action is. Seeing such actions, families and couple queuing up to take home these birds bought me hope that theirs potential for change and an awakening taking place.
Photo of Offred looking a little worse for wear on her arrival and enjoying her first moments of freedom. This is the stress of life on a factory farm.
I get the chickens home and they are quickly introduced to their new environment. They are so docile, so at peace, and quickly start showing normal chicken behaviour, so instinctually. The sun was shining and one of them spread their wings to take in the rays. Looked so funny and almost worrying as she looked like she'd been hit by a car. Thankfully I was told in the leaflets that this is how they enjoy the sunshine.
Photo of Betty sunbathing.
As the days went on we all got to know each other. The hens seemed to share so many characteristics to a cat or dog. They learnt their names! They would come when they were called. They loved being petted. I soon got to know their favourite foods. Their personalities shone through. Betty was bossy and a little mean - to be fair this is what kept her strong whilst in the factory farm whilst others were weak and featherless. Heather was the best friend to Offred and looked after her. Offred was afraid and took a longer whilst to trust but had such spirit.
Betty venturing into the house and joining into a Personal Training session.
Week after week, they became a natural part of my life. I accepted that they made the garden a mess, I soon even let them enter the house and poo on the new laminate. Sometimes they were a bit of a pain, following me around endlessly, like annoying younger sisters. I was often worried about them with the threat of foxes around the corner. I would be concerned about their nutrition and whether I was a good enough carer. None the less the whole experience was worth it though not easy. I found myself becoming an expert of chickens and feeling like part of a community of chicken carers online. The BHWT provided me support and advice as well as enthusiastic and passionate hen carers online and on instagram.
I won't go into details here though due to their conditions at the farm and their relentless egg laying (which they are genetically bred to lay 300 plus eggs a year (instead of typically 12-16 in the wild, their bodies were devastated. After all, farmers have no interest in their health as long as they are laying.
Photo showing just how friendly & trustful they are.
Eventually I took them one by one to the vets to be put down and I grieved for each one. I am comforted by the idea that they did have a time of happiness. Yet these 3 hens are just a drop in the ocean. Most people will eat a chicken without a second thought to the rich possibility of their life, the chickens desire to live, the chickens potential to love and our potential to love them.
Chickens are the most abused animal in the world, with billions and billions confined and killed as babies. How many chickens do we each eat on average in our lifetimes?! We can make immediate change to their lives.
It is effectively the same as eating a cat or a dog. Anyone who is upset about certain cultures eating a cat or a dog and does not bat an eye lid when it coming to eating a chicken - another beautiful sentient being should take a look inwards and notice the hypocrisy in this.
It took me a very long while to make the connection. I would have hoped to have done so sooner. If this very brief piece can make someone think next time they are eating a chicken then it's all worth it. Thank you for reading and for being ready to open your mind to possibly adopting a beautiful chicken companion and to leaving animals off your plate.