On September 20, 2000, a series of tornadoes descended on the town of Croton, Ohio. Cutting a deadly swath through the countryside, the twisters uprooted trees, cut down power lines and blew apart homes. They also utterly destroyed several warehouse buildings belonging to the Buckeye Egg Farm, one of the largest egg factories in the world. Inside those warehouses were more than 1 million egg-laying hens confined to wire battery cages and stacked row upon row in tiers. For them, there was no warning that the tornadoes were coming and no chance of escape. When the buildings’ sides and roofs blew down, the cages were mangled and many birds were instantly killed, but most were trapped helplessly without access to food, water or veterinary attention.
Upon hearing of the egg farm disaster, Farm Sanctuary staff and volunteers, along with staff from OohMahNee Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, contacted Buckeye Egg Farm and successfully persuaded the company to allow the hens to be rescued and brought to animal sanctuaries. Both sanctuaries quickly assembled a rescue team and set out for Ohio. When they arrived, they could scarcely believe the extent of the damage the tornados had caused. Twelve of the farm’s chicken warehouses had been leveled, and everywhere the rescuers turned, they could see weak, injured chickens trapped in twisted cages, languishing without food or water. Deeply saddened by what they saw, but undaunted by the task ahead of them, the rescuers began saving as many lives as they could. In the end, Farm Sanctuary helped rescue more than 5,000 hens. Some of the hens were transported to loving, adoptive homes and others were delivered safely to animal sanctuaries across the nation. More than 1,200 came to live at our New York Shelter.
Today, only one hen rescued from the Buckeye Egg Farm remains at Farm Sanctuary. Selectively bred to produce nearly 300 eggs each year – as opposed to the 60-70 they would lay in nature – and thus prone to serious reproductive illnesses, the rest have passed away. They lived beautiful, happy lives here at Farm Sanctuary, but lives that were much too short. Some suffered from cysts, infections and egg masses in their oviducts, others from ovarian carcinoma and diseases of the reproductive tract. Valued only for their production levels and pushed beyond their biological limits, the odds were against them from the very beginning.
Had the tornadoes never wrought their devastation in Ohio, the lives of the unhappy Buckeye hens would still have been in mortal danger. Most factory egg farms send hens to slaughter after only 12 to 15 months in production. Fortunately, these brave, tenacious survivors were given the chance to be free, and spend their days dust-bathing in the sun and wandering under the blackberry bushes with their friends. We are truly grateful that we were able to see them enjoy their lives. At the same time, we will always remember those hens killed at the Buckeye Egg Farm in 2000, and all those hens still in cages, who will never be given the chance to be who they were meant to be.