Spent Hens Rescue Mission Of 2016 Complete!

Fifty hens were rescued today and brought to Better Farm to be rehabilitated, rehomed, and given the cushiest of retirements after a lifetime of tough luck and discomfort.

In the commercial egg business, it doesn't make sense to house chickens that are past their peak production. Here are the facts on that:

  • There are more than 280 million egg-laying hens in the United States confined to battery cages — small wire cages stacked in tiers and lined up in rows inside warehouses. In accordance with the USDA's recommendation to give each hen four inches of 'feeder space,' hens are commonly packed four to a cage measuring 16 inches wide.

  • Because egg-laying chicken breeds have been genetically selected exclusively for maximum egg production, they don't grow fast or large enough to be raised profitably for meat. Therefore, male chicks of egg-laying breeds are of no economic value, and they are discarded on the day they hatch. 

  • Female birds' confined space doesn't allow the ladies to stretch their wings or legs, and they can't fulfill normal behavioral patterns or social needs like scratching in the dirt, chasing bugs, or taking dust baths. Rubbing against wire cages means these birds lose a lot of feathers; and it's not uncommon for the ladies to have lots of bruises and abrasions. 

  • To reduce injuries from excessive pecking—a behavior that occurs when confined hens are bored, stressed, or frustrated—most laying hens' beaks are cut off. 

  • Laying hens' bodies suffer from massive egg production (250 eggs/year on average): They suffer from "fatty liver syndrome" and "cage layer fatigue"; and, percentage-wise, after about a year most hens in the egg industry are considered "spent" and sent to slaughter. The hens who did nothing but lay eggs usually end up in soups, pot pies, dog food, or similar low-grade chicken meat products.

I know, yuck.

A gang of four—sustainability students Nina, Steph, and Levi, along with yours truly—hopped in the F-150 this morning to pick up the ladies. Here's the formidable crew:

 Game face.

Game face.

At the egg farm, we loaded 50 hens into the back of said F-150 and set our compasses for Redwood. The girls were utterly confused, but also pretty pumped to be stretching those wings out:

Back at the farm, it was time to clip some toenails, clean the ladies up, offer them some fresh food and water, and give them their very first taste of summer breezes, green grass, bugs (so many bugs) and blue skies. To do all this, we had quite the procession line: Steph (who until a few hours ago had a lifelong fear of birds) jumped into the bed of the truck with the ladies:

 Steph, wondering why on earth she decided to come to Better Farm.

Steph, wondering why on earth she decided to come to Better Farm.

As Steph caught chickens one by one, Nina strategically opened the truck cap hatch at the right moment for the bird hand-off to Levi, who walked each hen over to me for pedicures and sponge baths. Then it was a quick dip into the water dish, and release:

We've found several local volunteers who will be adopting around 25 of these beauties in two weeks once they've been quarantined and nursed back to health. Any hens not adopted will get to hang out at Better Farm forever with the rest of the animals finding sanctuary here.

Very special thanks to our rescue-ops crew: for stomaching this experience, SAVING FIFTY LIVES in one morning, and devoting themselves to the care of these very special birds.

Can't adopt? You can still help!To sponsor a rescue hen, click here.

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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.