A rescued hen is held in gentle hands.
Animal Place is a sanctuary located in Grass Valley California which gives shelter and care to rescued farmed animals. Rescue Ranch, their sister property in Vacaville California, recently received 1500 hens from an egg production facility and saved them from the usual fate of slaughter. About 15 volunteers showed up on a sunny Saturday morning to help with hen health checks. When the hens arrive at Rescue Ranch they are able for the first time to touch the earth, experience the warm sunshine and move about freely as normal chickens. Each has spent the entire portion of their short lives in dirty, crowded and terrifying conditions… until now.
Volunteers begin to quietly round up the hens.
On this day we were assisting with a phase two health check. During phase one, when the hens first arrive, they are individually checked for injuries and illness. Volunteers trim their toenails which often grow unusually long due to confinement. Some of the birds have broken bones, lacerations and injuries related to brutal handling and transport. Most birds have visible feather loss and are crawling with mites from their inability to move around naturally and dust bathe. All the hens have amputated beaks, a painful procedure which impairs their ability to eat and drink. There are no male chickens present because all of them were separated from the females at the hatchery and killed as day-old chicks. The hens are emotionally fragile from their trauma and physically weak from the constant egg laying which saps their bodies of much needed calcium and nutrients.
Hens receive a dose of medication from the wonderful Rescue Ranch staff and volunteers.
We assisted with phase two by gently collecting the hens and passing them off to Rescue Ranch staff for medication. Then the birds were released into the barnyard where they could enjoy socializing with their sisters out under the shady trees. Afterwards all of us volunteers celebrated by cleaning the barns!
The hens enjoy hanging out at the feeders.
Once the hens are strong enough they are put up for adoption by Rescue Ranch and also through some of the local humane societies. If you can provide a safe forever home to some of these girls (which they truly deserve after all they have been through!) please contact Animal Place through henrescuers.org. I also recommend volunteering which is a deeply rewarding experience. To hold a bird who has never been treated gently and feel her body relax trustfully in your arms is a sweet gift indeed.
-Singing Luna 8/25/2015
Seed for thought: Consider how our consumer choices impact the lives of animals!
This YouTube video is from a hen rescue in Canada. The rescuers were so devoted it appears that they prepared their living room (!) to keep the hens in during their recovery. Please Note: although the video shows chickens being carried by their feet this is not a recommended way to carry birds.
There are a total of four roosters shown in this photo… and yes, they are all friends! (can you spot them?).
Myth #1: If you put two roosters together they will fight to the death.
Historically cockfighting has helped to fuel this myth by creating a grossly artificial situation where birds are cruelly trained to become aggressive. Roosters are drugged to dull the pain of injury and forced to wear razors attached to their legs ensuring a bloody and violent death. Many animals including humans will naturally fight with each other if they do not have their basic needs met: food, water, shelter (or territory), and safety. If we live in an environment where we feel safe and comfortable then we are much more inclined to engage in friendly socialization. Just like humans, chickens need to have the proper amount of space to be emotionally healthy. Roosters may initially fight to prove hierarchy but will generally defer to the stronger bird before any serious injury results. Roosters who are raised together as chicks will determine hierarchy early so it is advantageous not to split them up. Often in situations where there are multiple males, roosters will pair off as buddies, being perfectly content to live the “hen-less” life. Contrary to popular belief it is quite possible to introduce adult roosters into an established flock by using certain socialization techniques (to be covered in a future post). It is our responsibility as caregivers to make sure that everyone in the flock is well cared for and also to monitor any aggressive behavior as soon as it materializes.
Myth #2: The presence of a rooster is necessary for a hen to lay an egg.
A hen will lay her egg whether or not a rooster is around however, roosters help to maintain a natural and beneficial dynamic within a chicken community. A rooster is essential for the fertilization of an egg. Fertilization occurs within the body of the female. A rooster will display a mating dance for the hen and she will indicate receptivity by squatting down next to him. He will then mount and deposit his sperm into the opening beneath her tail. If the hen chooses to nest and “set” on the fertilized egg a chick will form and hatch 21 days later. Though roosters are not necessary for the formation of eggs, they are an important asset for providing safety and protection of a flock. For instance when hens are out foraging a rooster will keep watch and give a distinct call to indicate danger. The type of sound will even indicate whether the predator is approaching on land or is airborne. Roosters are very courageous and have been known to fight off attackers many times larger than themselves. If a rooster finds food he will first call his family over to partake in the feast. It is well known that chicks will begin a dialog with their mothers while still inside the egg but recent studies have shown that they can also recognize vocalizations of the roosters and other members of their flock before hatching, which contributes to the bonding of the flock overall.
Myth #3: Roosters crow only at sunrise.
All animals have sophisticated methods of communication which humans have only barely begun to understand. A rooster’s crow is his way of communicating his presence territorially and also to announce his well-being. Throughout the day a rooster may crow in triumph after he has mated with a hen or after he has discovered food for his flock. If he hears noise in the middle of the night he may crow to warn that a predator might be near. A rooster’s song usually consists of four distinct notes or sections. Each individual rooster’s crow is unique and identifiable so it alerts the entire flock to who is located where (crowing is the GPS of the chicken world!). Keeping multiple roosters does not necessarily mean there will be a great increase in crowing. Roosters who are kept within a flock and not separated from each other tend to sing less often because they can visually locate the other males. Often the lower ranked males will not sing as often as the lead male. Roosters will also crow at sunrise, their eyesight being so sensitive to light that they can detect the faintest glow of dawn long before we humans can. If you wish to delay their singing in the morning you can do so by keeping them indoors in a dark quiet area until the desired rising time.
“A good rooster crows everywhere”- Sicilian Proverb
Roosters have very distinct personalities and also can be quite affectionate.
-Singing Luna 6/28/2014
Seed for thought: What other myths about chickens should be debunked?