Last week, 1,200 rescued chickens were flown from California to New York by an animal rescue group that saved the hens from being killed. When chickens age beyond their prime egg-producing years, as these hens had, they are often euthanized, but thankfully for these lucky birds, they will now enjoy the rest of their days on a farm sanctuary.
The birds, just 2 years old and on their first man-powered flight, had come all the way from California, where they had lived in harsh conditions on an unidentified egg farm, in cold metal cages, with little fresh air and less leg room than your average seat in coach.
“Farmed animals are at the bottom end,” said Kimberly Sturla, the executive director of Animal Place, a farm-animal rescue operation in Grass Valley, Calif., which organized the flight. “And at the bottom end’s bottom end, chickens probably have it the worst.”
Protecting farm animals like chickens, cows and pigs has become a priority for animal-rights groups across the country; in 2008, California voters passed a proposition that would effectively outlaw the small “battery cages” in which the Elmira passengers once lived. (It takes effect in 2015.) But once rescued, finding new homes for beleaguered birds — de-beaked, atrophied and often suffering from osteoporosis — can be a challenge.
While this story has a happy ending for these particular hens, this event helps shine light on the unfortunate reality that there are far more that are not rescued. And unfortunately, the idea of flying chickens across the country is not a super practical or sustainable solution to this problem.
As The New York Times reported, the ultimate goal for this animal rescue group is to encourage people to stop eating eggs and meat.
In addition to cutting back on your egg or meat consumption, knowing about your food is a huge help. If you buy your eggs from the grocery store, there is a good chance they are coming from a factory farm that uses cruel battery cages. So, you could start by not doing that. Or be sure to research the company to see what kind of farms they use. I've previously written about the ethical case for supporting pasture-raised eggs.
If you want really fresh eggs, you could opt to raise your own chickens in the backyard.
And for meat, it's just as important to research where you're chickens were raised and processed. As Maggie noted Friday, the Department of Agriculture has approved four plants in China to process chicken for export to the United States. The lack of oversight and safety regulations in China are worrisome, but it gets worse:
There's an environmental cost as well. One important caveat is that the Chinese factories can only make products with chickens raised and slaughtered in the U.S. or Canada.
That's right. We'll be raising chickens in the Americas, shipping them to China, and then shipping them back.
That's pretty much the antithesis of local food, and yet another reason to cut back on processed food items.
And I think it is safe to say that the chickens that were flown from California to their retirement farms in New York were treated much better than the many thousands of birds that will be shipped over to China. So try and support a local butcher or grocery store that will tell you about where they get their meat.
Okay, that ended a little heavy, so here's a video of rescued chickens playing in the grass for the first time.