Running a Chicken Rescue organisation this is a topic close to my heart. I have rescued many ex battery hens, and I have witnesses first hand over and over again the abhorrent nature of this industry. An industry that uses and abuses these noble birds in conditions which are wholly inadequate to meet even some of their basic needs, and spits them out to meet a grim end.
The majority of eggs sold in the supermarkets and smaller retail outlets are bought for re sale from factory farming outlets called battery farms. The hens in battery would have been brought up in large overcrowded hatcheries and put into cages with a wire floor space no bigger than an A4 piece of paper for the next year of their lives from laying age (approximately 5 months). They would have shared this space with 2 to 3 other hens. No grass, no sun, no sky, no dust to dust bath in, no space to exercise or spread their wings. At day 1 they would have had a portion of their beaks seared off with a burning hot blade to eliminate pecking and bullying each other in overcrowded, stressful conditions – no pain meds, after damage care, or anaesthetic. After a year of egg production under trying conditions, theses hens are sold for pets mince, composite chicken products (chicken nuggets or burgers) or informal slaughter in poorer communities. The final clearing of the battery houses and transportation to their final destination is a callous affair, leaving bruised and broken bodies.
In a medium to small type enterprise, you can have up to 100 000 hens confined. The processing of these numbers leaves little room for compassion or care.
Buying and eating eggs from a battery facility is an absolute ‘no no’. It is an unhealthy practice for both you and the chicken.
So what about free range? The free range egg industry is a minefield to negotiate, as the term ‘free range’ can often refer to barn raised hens. Large warehouse type facilities where the hens can walk around inside, but are still denied natural light, a place to dustbath, grass etc, but also fall victim to massive overcrowding. They still would have had their beaks seared, they will still be cleared out after a year to a year and a half, and they are still disposed of in gruesome ways. Free Range can also mean they have access to an outside area, but again the conditions are crowded, and they are certainly not living in meadow type conditions, Often concrete flooring for easy control of hygiene levels.
I have to stress, the egg industry ONLY makes financial sense in large numbers. There is not a great mark up on eggs, and therefore limiting your financial input while gleaning as much as you can out of your hens, becomes the target. Once this happens, corners are cut, and your hens become products, not sentient beings with emotional, physiological and psychological needs to fill.
So, is free range better than battery? Yes, it is. Is free range devoid of cruelty? Absolutely not. What is the solution? In my books, its simple – cut eggs out of your diet, then I can ensure I am not buying into this cruelty. If you still feel you need eggs, have two or three of your own rescue laying hens (if you can provide them with what they need), or investigate your local small farm set ups. However, I can tell you, that to date, I have still not found a local producer in South Africa, where all cruelty is eliminated. There are substantially better set ups than others, but nothing I would choose to support.
Read some of our other posts, we have posted a lot on this subject over the years.
Let me attempt to define what I mean by pleasure activities involving animals. This is any activity that involves an animal, or animals, that humans derive pleasure or gratification from, where the animal/s involved have
Either been trained into submission over time to partake in the required activity
Forced against their will to partake in whatever is being required of them
Removed from a situation that is healthy for that animal to a situation that is far less desirable for that particular animal or animals
In short abuse and domination by human beings are at play.
There has been a solid amount of research done on the link between animal abuse and human abuse. So much so, that in certain States in the USA and New Zealand, the animal shelters and domestic violence units are starting to work in conjunction with each other. Invariably when a case of animal abuse or neglect is reported it is an indicator of abuse going on in the home amongst the people living there, and visa versa.
“a history of animal abuse was found in 25% of aggressive male criminals, 30% of convicted child molesters, 36% of those who assaulted woman and 46% of those convicted of Sexual homicide (Petrovoski 1997)’.
“Too many law enforcement officials still don’t realize that violence is violence,” said Ponder. “Animal cruelty is wrong in its own right, but it also can lead to eventual violence against people if it is ignored.”
For more information on The HSUS’ First Strike! Campaign, visit The HSUS’ web site, www.hsus.org.
Week after week, I see acquaintances and Facebook friends posting pics of their kids catching fish with captions reading ‘Bert’s first catch’. Then the nauseating comments that follow ‘well done Bert’, ‘like father like son, what a catch’. Really? Let’s re phrase this ‘Bert’s first kill’. If these are the levels of compassion being role modelled for our kids, and the activities sanctioned and encouraged by parents, then its little wonder our world is full of violence, intolerance, hatred and disrespect.
Does this mean young Bert is going to end up a serial killer, child molester or sexual predator? Probably not, however the line between killing that fish, hunting that antelope, and hurting or bullying (verbal or physical) your family pet and then your peer, friends (or partner in later life), becomes a finer line than it was before.
So some of the cruel activities we support in pursuit of pleasure needs to be interrogated if we are to start eliminating the circle of violence in our society. This does not mean if you have at any stage supported the following, you are on a slippery slope downhill, however if you are not prepared to take a look at what sits behind these activities, acknowledge them for what they are, and take a personal stand against supporting them, then that, for me, is a worrying mindset.
These are some of the activities that come to mind – horse racing, rodeo, running with the bulls, bull fighting, dog fighting, cock fighting, sea world, petting zoos, zoos, live animals in education, snake milking, snake charming, hunting, fishing, circuses that use animals, elephant interactions, petting baby lions, religious ceremonies, such as Kapparot involving the use of live chickens and the Gadhimai festival in Nepal, bug collecting boxes, And of course if I really want to open a can of worms, eating animals measures up against the criteria I have outlined above.
Let’s have a look at some of these leisure and pleasure pursuits in more detail.
Hunting and fishing are pleasure activities. Both are activities where the individual involved gleans a measure of excitement and pleasure off killing. There are very few hunters left in the world that hunt purely for survival, and they are certainly not the hunters who may end up reading this post. Hunters throw in the out of date ‘conservation’ argument, the ‘I eat everything I shoot’ argument, the ‘at least I have the guts to kill my own food’, ‘I do it cause I love being close to nature’ blah blah. At the root of it all, is a pleasure based activity which involves suffering and death.
I have yet to see a hunter being dragged out on a weekend hunt with his/her mates crying out ‘oh I really wish I didn’t have to do this, but the lions of South Africa need me to pick off one of their family members for my wall’, ‘oh I really wish I did not have to spend large amounts of money on this expensive rifle – would have much rather given the money to my favourite charity!’.
Let’s stop pretending that hunting and fishing are anything other than a sport that comes at great cost to animal at the end of the barrel or line. There is no altruism in hunting/ fishing, for the most, it is an entirely selfish pursuit. What greater disrespect to another being on this planet than to take its life for fun.
Whenever and wherever animals are at the core of a large and lucrative business, there invariably becomes an animal rights and animal welfare infringement or multiple infringements. So when gambling, a highly addictive and very lucrative business for those at the top, is thrown in the mix, we start to get ‘animal welfare disaster’ industries popping up, such as horse racing, rodeo, cock fighting, and dog fighting.
Theme parks, petting zoos, circuses, snake milking, snake charming and zoos provide a central gathering place for people to have picnics, meet friends, and entertain themselves and their children off the suffering and incarceration of other species. Again, these are businesses that derive their income from the abuse of animals. Parents, have you ever considered what animals in a petting zoo are exposed to? These animals are handled throughout the day, with little time to eat, rest or groom, fundamental to the health and wellbeing of any creature. They are most often subjected to the inexpert and unsupervised mishandling by your children, leaving them bruised and often injured.
A popular party activity for kids in South Africa in the more affluent homes, is to hire a travelling petting farmyard to come to your home. The truck arrives with a calf, 2 lambs, some cute bunnies and a sheep or two. A temporary pen is set up in the garden to house the animals for the afternoon. The birthday girl or boy is then offered the treat of feeding the calf or one of the lambs with a bottle. These stressed out babies are further stressed through inexpert feeding, over petting, and constant handling. There is little time for rest for a working baby. The owner of one of these business proudly stated he can do up to 4 parties a day.
So 8 ½ years ago I hired a petting farmyard for my daughters second birthday. What a stressful party, mostly for the animals that were brought along, but also for me, as the jaw dropping horror of what these animals were going through dawned on me through the afternoon. I also realised that the young calf brought along was a one week old calf, victim of the horrific dairy industry. Calves are pulled from their mothers within the first 24 hours. They are either hand raised to go back into the dairy industry or raised till 18 weeks for veal. This baby had been pulled from his mother, put to work, and within a few weeks of him growing too big to be a safe and cute party calf, he would be sold for slaughter. The lambs where in a similar predicament. How else does one ensure that the stars of your show remain cute and cuddly indefinitely?
Bug boxes! What a silly idea for the unfortunate bugs that get crammed into a box to be observed and studied. Why can you not just observe the bug with your kids while it goes about its daily business? Most bugs live such short lives, and taking them out of their finely balanced daily routine geared for survival is just unnecessary, and cruel. And again, bug boxes are aimed at the younger consumer, who has limited co-ordination and who’s fine motor skills, not so great – which inevitably leads to the loss of a delicate wing, leg or both. Too often I have seen forgotten bug boxes thrown randomly into a toy box with an equally forgotten dead bug inside.
Using animals in ritual slaughter? Not ok. It is a purely selfish pursuit, and is a pleasure activity. It is not essential to our survival and often makes no sense. The Jewish ceremony Kapparot, is a case in point. Kapparot is an atonement ceremony, a time to cleanse the sins of the family. The ceremony is usually performed by swinging a live rooster or hen above the person who is being cleansed and then slaughtering the chicken who has taken on the sin, thereby removing sin from the sinner (?!). I have written often on the animal welfare transgressions inherent in the Kapparot ceremony. Again, we look at the selfish and self-serving nature of this ceremony, specifically when a cruelty free alternative is offered, which serves more than one person. Take money, put the sins of the family onto the money and give the money to someone in financial need.
I am not outlining the cruelty in every one of these industries, there is tons on-line that has been written about this before, and with more expertise than I give to it. There are numerous documented cases of animal cruelty to give us more than enough information to make an informed and cruelty free choice when choosing your next leisure activity (see our first deadly sin committed while living unconsciously on elephant interactions).
These items are not made from down or feathers collected in the malting season or a byproduct of meat production, as the industry would have you believe. This is a cruel and disgusting industry all on its own. Described below is an excerpt from Peta’s website on the harvesting of down.
‘The coldhearted and cruel down industry often plucks geese alive in order to get their down— the soft layer of feathers closest to a bird’s skin. These feathers are used to produce clothing and comforters, but for geese, the down industry’s methods are anything but comfortable.
Undercover video footage shows employees on goose farms pulling fistfuls of feathers out of live birds, often causing bloody wounds as the animals shriek in terror. The frightened animals are often squeezed upside down between workers’ knees during the painful procedure—in one instance, an investigator photographed a worker who was sitting on a goose’s neck in order to prevent her from escaping.
Live plucking causes birds considerable pain and distress. Once their feathers are ripped out, many of the birds, paralyzed with fear, are left with gaping wounds—some even die as a result of the procedure. Workers often sew the birds’ skin back together without using any anesthetics.
That’s not all—buying down can also support the cruelty of the foie gras and meat industries because many farmers who raise birds for food make an extra profit by selling their feathers as well. At the slaughterhouse, many of these birds are improperly stunned, which means that they are still conscious when their throats are cut and they are dumped into the scalding-hot water of the defeathering tank.’
This is the one area, you absolutely cannot justify supporting! We have advanced synthetics and cotton available to us that are hypo allergenic, cooler (or warmer if you prefer), and easy to wash, and in most cases, kinder on the wallet. Your genuine feather feather duster has an effective synthetic substitute. As for feathers as a fashion accessory (earrings, feather boa, feather trim, angel wings)? The market is flooded with fashion items at affordable prices. Feathers belong on live happy healthy birds, not on your body!
Don’t perpetuate this cruelty by buying feather and down products.
Having just gone through New Year and seen the desperate posts of animal rightists and pet carers on social media, living out the New Year’s Eve hell with their pets, this particular ‘no-no’ is top of mind.
I am fortunate to have 3 dogs that seem immune to loud bangs and noises, but in my parental home I watched my dad year after year – Diwali, New Years and Guy Fawkes – create a ‘cave’ under the dining room table for his Belgian shepherd. My dad and Beluga would hole themselves up for these events for the night/s. My dad cradling his shivering wild eyed dog, while she endured the war zone of bangs through the filter of strong tranquilizers. The tranquilizers left her groggy for days, the lack of sleep left everyone frazzled, and my parents never had the luxury of celebration of these commonplace events.
Each year pet shelters around the globe post gruesome pics of animals that have impaled themselves on gates and fences, burns from fireworks, glass cuts from jumping through windows, torn ears from squeezing through tiny gaps and broken limbs from frantic scrambling. To draw from an analogy used by Russell Brand, animals do not seem to be able to distinguish between the apocalypse and a firework display.
Those crazy Chinese lanterns seem to now be the sugar coated version for ‘concerned’ citizens – you know the ones that you light and let float up in the sky blazing with your good thoughts attached to them, in the hope that this will be the answer to your resolutions and prayers? Don’t kid yourself that you have taken a noble step against the use of fireworks just because you have eliminated the bangs. I watched a Chinese lantern float up in the sky one night, ignite a tree and disturb a whole flock of sleeping Egyptian geese who narrowly escaped being burned to death as they tumbled out of the tree in the dark, dazed and confused.
So why still support this hideous practice when you know the consequences? Because the lights are pretty? Because it’s got entertainment value and it doesn’t directly affect you? Because it supports your religious practices? Aren’t the guiding principles of religion supposed to support a good, kind, compassionate way to live your life?
Come on, there are so many other ways to entertain yourself that doesn’t involve misery to half our planet, get creative! This is really an area you wouldn’t have to sacrifice much to make the world a better place.
If you have any lack of clarity on this particular issue, here is your guiding principle – if you, as Joe Public, can interact directly with an elephant without barriers (that would be walk next to, touch, or ride) that elephant has been subdued and trained through hideous cruelty (lets add performing and working elephants to this list, including cute baby elephants massaging you on a beach in Thailand, or drawing pictures for you).
Talk to any elephant back safari operator in Africa, and they will tell you their facility is different
They love their elephants
They would never hurt their elephants – the training is done through positive re enforcement
The elephant handlers have a special bond with their elephants
They may even tell you that the elephants they use where born in captivity and therefore used to working with humans, as their mother is.
You are never going to get the truth out of these business owners because this is a lucrative business for them.
I happen to have had more than average exposure to this particular issue through Karen Trendler who has fought the good fight on behalf of trained elephants many times, and worked closely with a lucky few elephants for their release back into the wild.
Karen Trendler ask the question ‘What exactly does it take to make a large, highly intelligent and sensitive creature kneel down so a tourist can climb on its back?’
This excerpt was taken from an article by Karen Trendler, ‘In manuals and guidelines on the ‘art’ of elephant taming, techniques describe it as “dominance-based free contact” training. The only way free contact can be achieved is for the mahout to have total control over the elephant and demand absolute compliance. He does this through physical and psychological domination.
Dominance is achieved by negative reinforcement, punishment, force, pain, discipline and demanding that the elephant submit. Any momentary loss of control or focus by the mahout is potentially lethal.
Ropes and chains are used for prolonged restraint to instil compliance and ‘break’ the elephant. It may also be tied to the side of the boma for prolonged periods until it submits or has ‘learnt’. Chaining and restraining enables the handlers to enforce while the elephant is unable to move, reinforcing physical and psychological domination.
An elephant is taught to lie down on command by ropes tied to its legs, which are pulled, forcing it to lie down. This can be used a punishment and, eventually, as a way for tourists to have their photos taken patting it.
They are frequently forced to remain in a ‘sitting’ or kneeling position for long periods as a form of training, domination and punishment. This can result in serious and potentially fatal injuries to both limbs and internal organs. Young elephants and calves are especially at risk because, being social animals, their need for social and tactile comfort gets them to bond more easily with the mahout.
The handler carries what is innocuously referred to as an elephant ‘guide’. It is more correctly known as a goad or bull hook, a metre-long spike with a curved hook on the side. The sharp tip is used for jabbing and prodding the elephant in sensitive areas and the hook is inserted under folds of skin for pulling or applying pressure. It can be reversed for beating as punishment. Elephants often have scarring, open wounds and bruises from this instrument. It has been banned in a number of countries.
Another instrument of persuasion is a prodder, which delivers a high voltage electric shock. The more wilful, stronger and more full of character the elephant is, the more it is subjected to domination and punishment. And if it snaps, it’s subjected to further and harsher punishment.
Many people will defend their elephant experiences with statements like: “I’ve ridden on elephants and they were happy elephants”, or “I talked to the owner; he loves his elephants”. Nobody wants to believe they have paid towards an elephant being abused, beaten, restrained or dominated.
But these facts are not simply an attempt to sensationalise. They are the result of research into elephant-back tourism, testifying in cruelty cases, and fighting against cruelty as well as caring for, nursing and managing the rehabilitation of elephants which had been tamed, trained and broken’
No human leaves an elephant experience untouched, elephants are quite the most magical species, and the experience factor is very seductive – however, stop, think and put in place some measure of self-control. If you pay for any one of these experiences, you are condemning that elephant, and many more to come, to a life of misery, pain and torment. With this in mind, your desire to interact with elephant becomes an entirely selfish pursuit at great cost to our majestic cousins.
If you are interested in learning more about this cruelty, please watch or read
Almost a month ago we launched our ‘month of glorification of the chicken’ in honour of world animal day. We asked you, our community, to answer some questions for us on life with chickens and share your stories, and photos. What fabulous submissions we have had. An outpouring of love and an important documentation of the intelligence and depth of feeling chickens are capable of given the opportunity. I have delighted in reading every submission we have received and we have had fabulous feedback from other people too.
If you have missed our posts, please give yourself a ‘feel good’ treat go and read through some of our posts. We received 29 in total. 2 shy of our 30 submission goal, and so yesterday ended our 28 days of submissions.
A BIG thank you to all those people who contributed to this worthwhile awareness campaign, and a BIG thank you to all those who read the posts and shared them.
I was a vegetarian for 20 years until I began to learn about the horrors of the egg/dairy industry, and decided to go vegan three years ago. Having chickens and realizing how they feel pain, joy, and sorrow greatly influenced my decision.
Where in the world are you?
Batavia, Ohio, USA
How many chickens do you have?
Currently four girls, three recent “rescues” that have their own secure private coop/pen, and one house chicken that I’ve had for 8.5 yrs. who is my heart and soul.
what are your chickens names?
My Barred Rock with cataracts is called Tiny, the red hen with one bad eye is named Buckeye, and my little grey crooked beaked girl is Bonnie Blue. My older house hen is Beep the Chicken, who has a digestive disorder. Beep has her own facebook page.
How do you spend quality time with your chickens?
Every morning I go out and feed the girls their treats and let them out of their coop, then I spend a good hour cuddling in bed with Beep. Beep pretty much hangs out with us all day, by the computer or in the living room. I don’t get to spend as much time with the other three during the week as I’d like because of my work schedule, but we let them free range and walk around with them to keep them safe, and they love to hang out with us in the yard on the weekend. All four girls love to be held, cuddled and pampered.
What has surprised you most about your chickens?
It amazes me how each bird has his or her own personality. They are little characters.. some are sweet and loving, some boisterous and standoffish, some bold, some smarter than most household pets, some a bit silly… yet they still share similar mannerisms and love of life and the of simpler things such as having a good dust bathe and preening…
What do you want to tell people out there (who don’t know chickens as a species) about chickens?
These birds have feelings, just as your family pet, or your child. To confine them to small filthy cages or cramped conditions to live out their life simply to provide eggs or meat to the food industry is a cruel injustice and abuse.
How do you know that your chickens recognize you over and above other people in their lives?
When our birds see us coming, they run to us. When they see others that they do not know, they run in the other direction. My house hen Beep knows myself (Mom) and her dad. She knows Mom is the cuddler and protector and feeder, and Dad is the one she bosses around and plays with. Beep is a precocious little girl who doesn’t like other birds or even other people very much. She would never dream of being a sweetheart to anyone except her Mom. When others come around, she is completely indifferent to them, showing no interest unless there happens to be a treat involved..
In your experience of keeping chickens as pets, what 10 non-negotiable factors do you believe need to be in place to give chickens a life that is physically, emotionally and mentally healthy?
For cooped/penned birds, I’d say the obvious – secure housing, nest boxes/perches, fresh water, access to food, protection from elements (hot/cold weather), social interaction – either with humans or other chickens, dust bath access, love/affection/attention, occasional treats, and medical attention when needed.
If you could say one thing, on behalf of chickens in the world, to the decision makers in your country, what would that one thing be?
First and foremost, chickens need laws in place for their protection. As a vegan, I’d like to see all chickens liberated – but as a realist, I know this isn’t going to happen in the near future. Most people don’t know that chickens aren’t even protected under any humane slaughter laws that are given to pigs/cows. Egg laying chickens need access to the outdoors/sun. They need more space in their cage than a space the size of an ipad. There needs to be laws in place to protect these birds from the cruelties we impose on them, but more importantly, there needs to be a way to ENFORCE these laws.
Join our FB community ‘chickens as pets not food – chicken rescue and rehabilitation’