Two large bi-coastal rescues carried out in December recently saw more than 200 layer hens once destined for slaughter to safe homes at Farm Sanctuary’s New York and California Shelters. Given fresh new starts just in time for the New Year, our newest residents are now learning to leave their pasts behind, moving toward a future of freedom, comfort and joy in the loving, compassionate hands of sanctuary caregivers.
The first group of hens to arrive at Farm Sanctuary included 151 Rhode Island Red chickens from a Pennsylvania “free-range” farm that closed down and planned to send the birds to slaughter only days after we received a call to save them. Though raised in an environment thought to be humane, the hens we greeted were what the industry calls “spent” – their bodies strained and exhausted from years of unnatural egg production and their beaks marred from the painful mutilations they endured as chicks.
Once confined and crowded together on the second level of a barn, not free-roaming as their classification as “free-range” suggests, the chickens have since discovered the pure delight of unlimited access to the outdoors. Even with the cold and snow at our New York Shelter, these girls will not be deterred from going outside and burst forth from their barn each morning to search for the next big thrill to be had in their new life. Their love of freedom and fresh air is so great that nothing easily lures the hens inside at day’s end.
Among the 151 rescued chickens are also two birds with special needs who currently live at our shelter hospital. The first is little Wheatberry, a hen who underwent such brutal debeaking as a youngster that most of her upper beak is missing, making it difficult for her to even eat. She is now given nutritious mashes of softened feed to help her gain weight. Also from the same rescue, Wheatberry’s companion, Mung, is completely blind and requires close monitoring as well while she adjusts to her environment. Both Wheatberry and Mung are extraordinary and show an amazing amount of trust now that they are treated with love.
In California, another egg producer’s relinquishment of more than 600 “spent” layer hens to several animal shelters in Sonoma County, Novato and Vacaville also resulted in our immediate offer to help by providing a home for as many of the birds as we could. By the end of December, just in time for the New Year, 58 of these girls arrived at our California Shelter to begin a life far different from the miserable existence they once knew.
Likely from a much larger facility than the “free-range” chickens we rescued in Pennsylvania, these hens, pure white Leghorn layers more typically found on factory farms, were not only severely debeaked, but also missing feathers from constantly rubbing against the wire cages that had confined them. They also had very long toenails from never having been able to touch the ground with their feet before.
Just like their New York counterparts, these lucky girls have embraced their newfound freedom to roam the outdoors. With more west coast warmth to enjoy, and no snowdrifts to contend with, these talkative, energetic and happy California hens worship the sun and spend as much time as they can stretching out in patches of light on the ground and relishing the feel of sunshine on their feathers and skin.
Thanks to Farm Sanctuary members whose generous year-end gifts made these rescues possible, all of the hens are not only receiving the special care they need right now, but have also been given a bright future we couldn’t have offered them otherwise. As we begin 2009, we are still counting on you to ensure our ability in the year ahead to provide farm animals with second chances just like we did with these precious chickens. If you can help us help more farm animals at this critical time, please make a donation to our Emergency Rescue Fund today. Thank you!