The knock at
the door was my neighbor, Tom. Behind him was a wheelbarrow with
a cardboard box in it. Were we able to take a few chickens?
The eggery a
few miles down had closed and the last of the resident battery hens
were being moved to another facility. The driver moving them had
a full truck and there were still a few hens left, so he had called
his friend, Tom. Tom brought them to us. I looked at the box, which
was about 2 feet x 15 inches and 15 inches tall and figured it held
two, maybe three hens. Sure, we'll take them.
I opened the
box slowly, not wanting the hens to jump out and run off, and gasped
at what I saw. The hens were packed in so tightly, it was hard to
tell how many there were. Eleven, said Tom.
pretty mangy. Patches of their feathers were broken off from rubbing
against the sides of cages. They had bald spots with new pin feathers
growing in, a sign they had probably gone through a forced molt,
a barbaric process in which food is withheld to force them to lose
their feathers at a time convenient for egg sales schedules. They
had all been debeaked, some of them not very skillfully.
all pretty tame," Tom offered. "You can pick them right
up and they don't fuss too much." Tom's good intentions aside,
they were all more terrified than tame. They stood very still more
from a desperate attempt to be invisible than from contentment.
have to be separated from the rest of the flock for a few weeks
to be watched for signs of disease or parasites. The time in quarantine
also lets them settle in and calm down before they are faced with
the pecking order of the established flock. Our henhouse has a separate
room used for a nursery on the odd occasion when one of our rescued
girls decides to hatch some eggs. But flooding last fall has left
the floor in bad shape. With two hens trying to hatch eggs in the
henhouse, we had planned to put in a new floor next week before
moving them in. Now we'll have to do it tomorrow. For tonight, I'll
just dump a thick layer of bedding on the floor. One or two at a
time, I took them out of the box and placed them in the nursery/quarantine
room of the henhouse.
As I lifted
chooks number 10 and 11 from the box, I saw a very still, very small
hen at the bottom. Hen number twelve had huddled in a corner, completely
buried under the others. Certain she'd been suffocated, I was furious
at this final bit of cruelty. I wanted to lash out at Tom, asking
him if he was completely out of his mind putting 12 animals in box
that shouldn't hold more than 2 or 3. What did he expect to happen?
But I stopped myself. Tom had been vehemently opposed to our chicken
rescue activities and it had been the cause of an ongoing dispute.
Clearly, he'd come around on it and I wasn't going to start the
feuding again. I bit back the words of reproach and calmly explained
that the next time he should call me and I'd bring cages and boxes
sufficient to move them safely. A barely perceptible cluck agreed
with me. Hen number 12 was alive.
hens are not ready to trust us. Each time we go into the room to check
on them, they all huddle in a corner. We turn on a small light at
one end of the room, leaving the other in darkness so they can sleep.
It's time to leave them alone and let them rest for the night.
and Jim Laurie live at Frog Pond Farm in Iroquois
County, Illinois, where they grow their own organic produce
and tend to a large flock of rescued chickens and guinea fowl.