Those of you who know my story know that I, like many of you, went vegan overnight after reading John Robbin’s book, Diet for a New America. As an animal lover, my husband knows to pull the car over instantly if a cute dog is sitting on the sidewalk that looks like it needs a good petting (they all do!) But after reading Diet for a New America, I had to ask myself, “Other than my personal familiarity with them, what distinguishes a dog from a chicken? A cat from a cow?” In looking at photos like the one below, with egg-laying chickens crammed into cages for their entire lives, poop falling on them from chickens above, stepping in their own excrement and fighting with their cagemates, I had to ask myself, “If these were puppies instead of chickens, we’d be outraged! Why aren’t we outraged for the chickens?”
It is, of course, a matter of familiarity, cultural norms, and perhaps, the “cuddle-factor” of puppies. But none of these arguments really holds up against the ultimate question: Does not every animal (and human) deserve to live its life out under natural conditions, free from pain and suffering at the hands of others?
To me the answer is clearly “yes.” I may not feel as strong a connection to chickens as I do to puppies, but that doesn’t make them less worthy of love or more worthy to be abused.
Laurelee Blanchard is a compassionate woman who has dedicated her life to rescuing farm animals that were either destined to become dinner, or were in other abusive situations. Running Leilani Farm Sanctuary on Maui, she provides tours to locals and tourists alike, teaching them that all animals - not just our house pets - have personalities and intelligence, and all creatures deserve our love and protection.
Laurelee has offered to provide information for our blog on farm animals, for which we are very grateful. If you are moved by what you read, please visit Leilani Farm Sanctuary's website!
Not many people know that chickens evolved in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and the tropical forests of Southeast Asia where they have lived and raised their families for thousands of years. Chickens enjoy being together in small flocks, sunning, dust bathing, and scratching in the soil for food. A mother hen will tenderly and even fiercely protect her young brood, driving off predators and sheltering her little chicks beneath her wings.
People who know chickens as friends know that chickens are not “all alike.” They know that, like all species with certain traits in common, chickens have individual personalities, distinctive identities, and unique ways of expressing themselves.
Chickens have memory and emotions, and a keenly developed consciousness of one another and of their surroundings. Researchers have recently published findings on chicken intelligence that have challenged old notions about avian cognitive abilities. For instance, scientists have found that chickens clearly understand cause-and-effect relationships, an advanced comprehension skill that puts their intellect beyond that of dogs. In the book The Development of Brain and Behavior in the Chicken, Dr. Lesley Rogers, a professor of neuroscience and animal behavior, concludes, “It is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.”
More than half a billion eggs originating from two factory farms were recalled earlier this year because of salmonella outbreak. Eggs are our number-one cause of salmonella poisoning, not surprising given the conditions in which they’re produced. Egg factory farms consist of a series of warehouse-like sheds that house 200,000 or more birds in each windowless building. Inside, hens are crammed into thousands of wire battery cages, stacked several tiers high and extending in rows for the length of the building. The stacked cages force chickens to live in the bacteria-breeding excrement of those above them—causing ammonia burn to their eyes, which can lead to blindness.
Within the cages, each hen has about 67 square inches of space, less than a sheet of paper; not even enough space to spread her wings. Many hens raised under these conditions die of stress or disease. Since only female chickens produce eggs, about 280 million male chicks per year are shoved into plastic bags to suffocate, or are ground up alive.
But what about free range eggs? No government laws regulate the use of terms like "free-range" on egg cartons, so some "free-range" eggs may actually be produced by hens who spend their lives in small, conventional battery cages. Often "free-range" hens, though uncaged, are confined in crowded sheds, with little or no access to the outdoors. Once their egg production wanes, “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “organic” hens are slaughtered, the same as factory-farmed hens.
Healthy and humane alternatives to eggs are available at natural food stores, including powdered egg substitute for baking, tofu scrambler, and eggless mayonnaise.