Take a Moment, or a Month, to Appreciate Chickens
This is what chicken wings are really for: cuddling their babies.
International Respect for Chickens Day is May 4th. In fact, all of May is International Respect for Chickens Month. Yes, respect for chickens. They actually deserve it.
Chickens are affectionate, social animals who protect each other fiercely. I saw an example when I visited a group of hens and a rooster at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. When the rooster found a nearby noise threatening, he got right up and made an impressive racket. Anyone who wanted to get to his family would have to go through him.
Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, tells a story of a mother, Eva, protecting her chicks from a dog. “With her wings outspread and curved menacingly toward the dog, she rushed at him over and over, cackling loudly, all the while continuing to push her chicks behind herself with her wings.” The dog left, but Eva remained vigilant until she was sure the beast was gone.
Ruby adopted Ivy, an unrelated chicken rescued from a pile of manure and decomposing chickens outside a Perdue shed. Photo Credit: United Poultry Concerns
More than anything, Davis has found that ”chickens are cheerful birds, quite vocally so.” Lavanya Sunkara of Petside.com observed the same thing at the Woodstock Sanctuary: “chickens just want to run around and have fun.” They dustbathe, sunbathe, peck and scratch the ground looking for food, and snuggle up with their friends.
When chickens are depressed, they express it with “their entire being,” Davis says. “The fact that chickens become lethargic in continuously barren environments, instead of proving that they are stupid or impassive by nature, shows how sensitive these birds are to their surroundings, deprivations and prospects.”
Hundreds of millions of chickens have plenty to be depressed about. As I’ve described elsewhere, egg-laying chickens are crammed so tightly into “battery cages” that they cannot even spread their wings or lie down. Poultry producers save space at the birds’ expense to maximize the number of eggs they can collect per square inch.
The chickens stand on wire mesh that cuts into their feet; sometimes their toes grow around the wire. The walls of the cage rub their feathers off and cause blood blisters. With no outlet to express their natural urges to dust bathe and to peck at the ground, birds peck at and injure each other. Most have the ends of their beaks seared off as chicks in a painful, mutilating procedure intended to prevent this pecking.
The concentration of their waste, which collects on the floor beneath the rows and rows of cages, emits so much ammonia that it sickens the birds, hurting their lungs and making their eyes burn. They never see the sun or feel a breeze, and they never form the family groups that wild chickens create instinctively.
While female chicks are having their beaks burned off, male chicks are losing their lives. A few of them are kept to reproduce the breed, but most are killed immediately in one of a number of ways, including tossing one atop another in garbage bags to suffocate each other to death and throwing them live into grinders. They are useless to factory farm owners because raising them for their meat is not cost-effective. Chickens raised for meat have been carefully bred to grow enormous chests and thighs shockingly fast (with the result that their legs cannot support their weight and they often cannot walk). Chickens used for egg production have been carefully bred to produce as many eggs as possible. The males of the egg-laying breed would not yield enough meat to earn their keep, earning instead a death sentence.
Davis reports that chickens can live for more than 30 years. In factory farm conditions, their egg production drops off and they are slaughtered at around one year of age. After an excruciating journey to the slaughterhouse that kills many of them, the birds are hung upside down and their heads are dragged through electrically charged water. The ones who aren’t rendered unconscious get to experience their necks being sliced open to bleed them, and then being scalded to facilitate plucking.
Approximately 280 million hens raised for their eggs and 280 million male chicks are slaughtered each year in the United States.
United Poultry Concerns started International Respect for Chickens Day and Month in 2005. “Our message is simple. Be kind to chickens. Don’t eat them. Discover the variety of all-vegetarian, vegan foods and cooking ideas. Tell your family and friends how much chickens suffer in industrial farming and how cheerful and loving chickens are when they are treated with compassion and respect.”
So consider laying off the chicken wings and the McNuggets today, or all month. You can get started with the Vegetarian Starter Kit. Some very respectable animals will be better off for it.
Photo Credit: Topinambour