There really are no words to describe what 700 chickens looks like, you just have to experience it. Last weekend I did just that. Animal ...
Place is a farm animal rescue and sanctuary, as well as an education and adoption facility. The rescue portion takes place at their Rescue Ranch located in the outskirts of Vacaville, CA, and the sanctuary, education and adoption components are at their facility in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, in Grass Valley, CA.
We often hear about farm animal sanctuaries rescuing a couple baby cows, a few turkeys, or maybe a pig or a goat. But 700 chickens? Where do 700 chickens come from? And why would someone want to get rid of them all at once? In this case it was a “free range” egg farm that was going out of business. When this happens there are a few options the farmer has for the chickens: 1) sell them for a low price to a slaughterhouse, 2) gas them, or 3) abandon them and let them starve to death. In this case there was a fourth option; turn them over to a sanctuary.
I arrived at the Rescue Ranch bright and early with a group of volunteers from Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (FFAC). We were all smiles and hugs enjoying the sunshine and cool morning air outside while Jan, an Animal Place animal caregiver, explained what our tasks would be for the day. It was a bit overwhelming but Jan was so positive and perky that I wasn’t worried at all. Bring it on! The barn doors slid open and we stepped into the realm of chickens.
My heart ached for these animals. Although they are very intelligent, have the ability to feel pain, and experience suffering they have been treated as nothing more than mere commodities, production units. These hens are so lucky that a place like Animal Place exists, to be their savior from such a wretched fate.
We divided our group into “catchers” and “checkers”, fairly self explanatory tasks. I excitedly volunteered as a checker. My group was handed face masks; we looked somewhat worriedly at Jacie, the Rescue Ranch Adoption Coordinator. She explained that it was likely all of the hens would be covered in mites and lice and would have to be “dusted” with a powder that contains a pesticide in order to get rid of them, something we definitely shouldn’t be inhaling (fun fact: this is why chickens dust bathe, a natural way for them to get rid of these pests; something they are unable to do when they are forced to live in crowded, unmaintained living conditions).
I was handed my first chicken, she was so small, soft and beautiful, her plumage full of deep shades of browns, reds and oranges. I pressed her against my body gently and began to check her. Comb, eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, check! Wings, crop, keel, abdomen, vent, check! Legs, toes, nails, check! Well, at least that’s how I imagined it would have happened. I quickly learned what lice, mites, and their egg clusters looked like. Imagine clumps of slightly grey, wet salt, ranging in size from a pea to a grape, at the base of their feathers. We were instructed to cut them off as closely to the skin as possible.
This ended up being a daunting task, as nearly all of them had some level of egg clusters. If she had too many clusters to deal with quickly, or had any other health issues (a prolapsed vent, clogged nostrils, bumblefoot, mouth sores, etc.) she had to go into an isolation cell to receive a more comprehensive exam and care later. When the hen was done with her health check she was handed off for dusting and crating for transport to their future home.
Hours later we had completed our task. The healthiest chickens had been put into crates and picked up by their new caretakers, and the more sickly chickens were enjoying the sun and catching up on their dustbathing.
Despite being an incredibly challenging, stressful, emotional and very dirty day, I was immensely grateful for the time I was able to devote to these animals and help them in their transition to a new start. And I would more than happily do it all over again.
Samantha Pollak resides in Oakland with her dog, Ripley, her cat Oliver, and a ridiculous amount of succulents. She works as an Environmental Protection Specialist for the National Park Service, at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. She has always been a lover of animals, growing up with dogs, birds, and hamsters. About six years ago her love of animals lead her to become actively involved in animal welfare issues, and she has been volunteering with FFAC for the past year.