One morning in November, staff at our New York Shelter arrived at the office to discover a number of large plastic containers near the door. Inside, we found 22 chicks; the type raised for meat and often labeled “broilers” by the industry. The chicks were filthy, terrified, and, we soon discovered, heavily infected with coccidia. We immediately cleaned them up and began treatment, eager to restore their health so they could fully enjoy their new sanctuary lives.
Had they not been brought to our door, these birds would already be dead. Confined with thousands of other chickens in a barren warehouse, with less and less space to move, modern chickens are selectively bred to grow faster and larger than is natural, growing 300% faster than birds grew just 50 years ago. Pushed beyond their biological limits, some birds would have died of congestive heart failure even before being deemed ready for slaughter at just 42 days old. The surviving birds would have been roughly packed into trucks bound for the slaughterhouse; despite how fast their bodies had grown, the terrified birds would still be peeping like babies.
Our mystery chicks were a few weeks into that ordeal when they were rescued, arriving at our shelter still crowned with yellow down and only just beginning to grow their adult feathers. Though already burdened with heavy chests, they still act like the babies they are, full of playfulness and curiosity – an incongruity between natural behaviors and unnatural physiques that sadly result from intensive breeding. These rescued birds will remain on a restricted diet to curb the dangerous weight gain for which they are selectively bred. The industry created these birds for an unnaturally short wretched existence with only profit in mind. But it has not eliminated the chicks’ capacity to take joy in comfort, peace and companionship, which we see when they explore a field or settle into a nesting box in their barn. At Farm Sanctuary, we will work every day to give them these pleasures in abundance, and they will live in stark contrast to the billions of chickens who have no chance of freedom from the exploitation, confinement and neglect of factory farms.