Many people will tell you that there’s nothing cuter than a baby animal. Unfortunately, one Philadelphia resident took advantage of this sentiment — placing nearly 1,000 babies at risk in the process. This past September, the man purchased a group of Cornish-cross chicks and took to the streets, attempting to sell the newborn peeps to passersby. What he hoped would be a quick moneymaker, however, turned out to be a disaster: The chicks would not sell, and he now had hundreds of lives he was not prepared to care for on his hands.

Just like dogs, cats, or any other animals, chickens are a long-term commitment. Unfortunately, though, some people treat them as temporary playthings; many would-be chicken caregivers get rid of their birds once the novelty wears off, or when they realize they lack the knowledge and resources needed to care for them. While chickens — and all farm animals — can make great companions, it is essential to provide them with the lifelong, individualized care and support they need to live the lives they deserve.

Cornish-cross chickens are among the most abused animals on the planet; in fact, well over eight billion out of the nine-plus billion farm animals slaughtered for food in the United States each year are chickens of this breed. In the meat industry, chickens like our new friends are killed at just 42 days of age. In this situation, as well, these chicks faced a grim fate; when the man couldn’t sell them, he started giving them away, without looking into who was taking them — or for what purpose.

Thankfully, a local activist saw what was going on and sprang into action. She took as many peeps as she could, and contacted the Pennsylvania SPCA for help with the rest. As soon as we learned about these babies in need, we agreed to take in this group and provide the immediate care they needed. Once healthy and strong enough, they will move on to their forever home: a sanctuary member of our Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN). The collective support of our FAAN membership — both private adopters and other sanctuaries — has over the years allowed us to rescue thousands more farm animals in need than we could have helped alone.

A few days later, we welcomed 21 chicks to our New York Shelter. At first, they were so tiny that they could all fit inside one of the care cages inside our Melrose Small Animal Hospital. But within a week, they had outgrown this space, so we placed them in a larger enclosure with plenty of room to run and explore. This group, like most Cornish crosses we’ve met, is so much fun to be around! These birds are silly, playful, affectionate, and sweet, and it’s a joy to watch their unique personalities blossom.

These chicks have plenty of reasons not to trust humans, yet they still do; they like to perch on our shoulders, fall asleep on our laps, and curiously examine every detail of their new surroundings. The boys already seem to know they’ll be big roosters someday, and proudly puff out their tiny chests. It is evident how much these birds want and deserve to live and thrive, and we are so happy they’ll have the opportunity to become the individuals they’re meant to be.

The “food animal” industry may alter the way these animals look and develop, but it cannot change who they are inside. In the industry, Cornish-cross chickens are bred and fed to grow at an unnatural rate in order to reach their “slaughter weight” as soon as possible. But at Farm Sanctuary, we value these individuals as friends, not food, and we do everything in our power to help them live their best lives possible.

The meat industry has bred chickens to grow alarmingly large, alarmingly fast.

One part of this care is restricting and closely monitoring their diets to help them maintain a healthy weight — an important way to prevent or manage weight-related ailments such as arthritis, respiratory problems, and heart attacks down the road. When given the care and love that they deserve, these individuals can lead happy, healthy lives.

We’re enjoying every minute with our littlest residents, and are so excited to watch their journeys unfold! Thanks to our FAAN members, we can help rescued farm animals find the loving forever homes they deserve — while at the same time freeing up space at our shelters to allow us to help even more animals when they need us most. These animals serve as ambassadors for billions of others just like them who are not as lucky — and their lives help inspire compassionate change. Compassion begins on our plates; will you join us in honoring these baby chicks by choosing plant-based options in their honor?