This was at a rural Mississippi poultry farm under contract with Tyson. A tornado spawned by the hurricane had completely destroyed one of its warehouses and severely damaged two others. Working tirelessly, our crew pulled trapped and injured chickens from the wreckage, examined them, and prepared them for transport to safety.
On September 12, the team arrived at our New York Shelter with 725 chickens rescued from the facility. Caregivers immediately began the monumental task of rehabilitating these birds, who were ailing with broken toes, gangrene, and joint infections, as well as malnutrition and dehydration from the days they had spent without food and water. Farm Sanctuary workers devoted hours and hours each day to administering antibiotics, painkillers, fluids, and special feeds. Farm Sanctuary supporters contributed to the effort, as well, donating enough funds for us to build a special nursery shed to house the weakest chickens.
In the weeks and months that followed, the fight for the birds’ lives continued. Even as they healed from their encounter with natural disaster, many of the chickens continued to suffer from the disaster of their breeding. Meat chickens, or “broilers,” are bred to grow rapidly, reaching slaughter weight just 42 days after hatching. These massive birds are prone to rickets, joint problems, torn ligaments, and a sudden death syndrome that the industry has dubbed “flip-over disease.” Genetically predisposed to voracity, many broilers will compulsively eat straw and other indigestible objects, which lodge in their crops and cause dangerous blockages and infections.
Keeping the birds on a carefully managed diet prevented or ameliorated some of these ailments, while others required ongoing care. Despite our best efforts, many of the birds died. Undaunted by their own difficulties, however, the tenacious survivors made great strides toward health and happiness. After lives in dim, crowded warehouses, they took to the airy barns and sunlit pastures of the shelter with relish.
One hen in particular impressed all who met her. Ginger was among the many thousands of chickens bulldozed into huge pits during the clean-up efforts. Rescuers found her in one of these pits, gamely fighting for her life despite a severe case of gangrene. Even after we were forced to amputate part of her foot, Ginger remained cheerful, active, and outgoing, exemplifying the resilience of so many of these birds.
One year after Katrina, hundreds of the chickens we rescued had been adopted into loving, permanent homes across the United States. More than 200 remained at our shelter and continued to receive expert care and all the comfort we could provide — and to inspire us with their indomitable zest for life.