We almost didn’t meet Jane. Last week, she was on her way to slaughter, along with dozens of other “broiler” chickens. The birds were aboard a transport truck, packed into bare plastic crates so tightly they could barely move. The crates were stacked in several tiers, and feces from the chickens above rained down on those below. The truck was open-air, with no walls to protect the chickens from the wind. You would think it couldn’t get any worse for these birds. But it could. One of the straps holding the crates in place had not been tightened properly, and as the truck raced down the Staten Island Expressway, multiple crates suddenly slid loose and fell onto the road.
Many birds died on impact. Others suffered injuries so severe that they would later have to be humanely euthanized. Fortunately, New York City’s Animal Care and Control was there for these imperiled animals. Agents arrived on the scene to bring the chickens back to the agency’s shelter for triage. Then animal rescuer Mike Stura carefully transported the 87 survivors to our New York Shelter in Watkins Glen.
Here in our Melrose Small Animal Hospital, triage continued — for days. And even over a week later, around-the-clock care is ongoing. Though they had reached the end of their lives in production, these chickens are just babies — at just under six weeks old, they’re still peeping like tiny chicks — yet many have demonstrated great tenacity and resilience as they cope with grave ailments.
The number and severity of their injuries were daunting: broken wings, deep gashes in necks and chests, toes so mangled they had to be amputated… the list goes on. Ten of the chickens had to be brought to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals to undergo surgeries, which included a wing amputation for a brave hen named Avalon.
Meanwhile, at the shelter, staff members have been working tirelessly to treat the rest of the flock. Caregivers are painstakingly dressing wounds, stabilizing injured limbs, and administering medications. This week, our avian vet paid a visit to examine and treat the many chickens with ailments requiring medical attention. Forty of the rescued chickens have foot injuries that require wraps, which must be regularly changed. Caregivers are monitoring and tending to all these babies closely, while also continuing to provide individualized care for the more than 130 of our 700 New York Shelter residents currently undergoing treatments.
Life on the Chicken Farm
All of the chickens are also being treated for a respiratory infection, likely induced by the stressful conditions at the factory farm where they were raised and on the vehicle that nearly delivered them to their deaths. The reckless manner of their transport, all too common in the animal agriculture industry, was unconscionable. Companies ship boxes of cereal with greater care.
That same callousness also characterized every moment of these young birds’ lives in production. “Broiler” chickens, bred for meat, are raised in intensive confinement. Crowded together by the thousands in bleak warehouses, they never have a moment’s respite from the crush of other bodies around them. They never step foot outside or breathe fresh air. Their lives are not their own.
On factory farms, even the most basic individual care is unheard of. Illness, injury, and early death are common, both because of the conditions in the facility and because these birds are bred to grow prodigiously, rapidly reaching unnatural weights that strain their bodies’ vital systems. As horrific as that accident on the expressway was, it was also, for those who survived, a tremendous stroke of luck. Now, for the first time, all of their needs will be met. Now, for the first time, each will receive the simple but crucial things he or she needs to experience the fullness of life. And despite all they have suffered, these birds are ready to survive and thrive.
Meeting Our New Friends
As we have helped these chickens begin their recovery, we have met so many wonderful characters. It is our pleasure to introduce some to you:
Of all our new chicken friends, Zoolander is the easiest to spot in a crowd. That’s because the fall from the truck injured her neck leaving it permanently crooked. Zoolander looks a little unusual, sure, but she doesn’t give a hoot. This happy young hen explores, dust-bathes, and basks in the sunshine with the best of them — and runs, usually toward whichever caregiver has made an appearance, since she adores humans.
Jasper also stands out, as he happens to be sporting an unusual accessory. Because chickens like Jasper are bred to gain weight rapidly, they are predisposed to overeating, and many therefore develop digestive ailments. Some, like Jasper, even suffer from the disorder pica, which induces obsessive eating of non-nutritive substances (including feathers, straw, and rocks). When a chicken eats too much, or the wrong things, he can stretch out his crop, damaging this crucial digestive organ. Jasper’s crop was in rough shape, so we fitted him with a special bra (or is it a “bro”?) for support. It may look a little silly, but it’s a big relief for this inquisitive boy. We don’t want any digestive issues to keep Jasper from investigating his new world and the other fascinating creatures who call it home!
And then there’s Jane, who has already made an impression on many people far beyond the shelter, thanks to a video National Shelter Director Susie Coston posted on Facebook. In the short clip, we see the moment that this sick and exhausted baby finally feels safe enough to fall asleep; she’s so tired she can’t even keep her beak tucked under her wing. Her palpable relief has struck a chord with viewers, providing, as it does, a poignant illustration of the fundamental needs and feelings we share with our fellow creatures — Who could fail to empathize as Jane gratefully sinks into peace and rest?
Because of broiler chickens’ predispositions to rapid growth and consequently to foot and leg injuries, lameness, and cardiovascular disease, our new friends will require special care for their whole lives. Those lives can be happy, comfortable, and full of pleasure for many years, but only with good healthcare and diligent attention to the chickens’ diets.
Once they are feeling healthy and strong, many of these chickens will be placed with trusted adopters, who are prepared and eager to give them the very best lives possible. Those chickens who have chronic health issues will stay here with us and continue to receive the expert care of our staff and access to some of the best veterinary care in the country.
Had that strap on the transport truck held, all of these chickens would have been slaughtered over a week ago. Jane would never have drifted to sleep finally, deeply, as gentle people watched over her. Never named or known, she would have emerged from the industrial machine as merely a body wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf. At Farm Sanctuary, on the other hand, she and all of her friends are recognized and loved, deeply and completely. An anonymous death and the fleeting satiety of a meal have been replaced by years of discovery, connection, and joy, not only for Jane and her friends but also for every human being who meets them.