With the skyrocketing popularity of the backyard chicken coops, more people are raising chickens for meat at home — some as a hobby and others, with good intentions, hope to circumvent the ills of the factory farm system. Regardless, they are unknowingly complicit in animal cruelty.
Buying chicks puts money into hatcheries, which are a big part of the factory farming system, and perpetuates massive animal suffering. Cornish Cross chickens (or “broilers” in industry parlance), typically raised for meat, are bred to grow quickly and reach a morbidly unhealthy “market weight” at just six to seven weeks of age. This rapid growth places unnatural strain on their bodies causing a slew of health problems including crippling foot and leg injuries and sudden heart attacks. Most people with backyard flocks are unprepared to handle such medical issues. Then, of course, there is the matter of killing the young chickens at the end of their growing cycle.
That was the sticking point for one man who was recently hired as a farm assistant at our Northern California Shelter. Before he was hired, his family purchased some Cornish Cross chickens to raise and slaughter themselves rather than buying the meat of factory farm birds. But once he started working at Farm Sanctuary, he had a change of heart. As he became acquainted with the charismatic chickens and other farm animals at the sanctuary — where they are free to flourish as individuals — he realized that he did not want to be involved with killing any of these individuals. There was a simpler way to withhold support from the factory farm system: He canceled plans to butcher his broilers and became a vegetarian.
After doing some research, however, he also determined that he was not equipped to care for his chickens as companions. Because of their predisposition to dangerous weight gain and its attendant health problems, these chickens require expert care, especially as they age. The farm assistant naturally turned to Northern California Shelter Director Tara Oresick, who welcomed the chickens to our shelter.
The eleven chickens are young and in good shape. As they grow, we’ll keep them on a special diet to help them stay as healthy as possible. For now though, this curious flock doesn’t have a care in the world. They love to explore their new yard and bask in the sun on hot days. And the farm assistant has the pleasure of watching them enjoy life every day as friends, not food.