On July 23, 2015 Animal Place liberated 1,500 white Leghorn hens from the agony of battery cages at an egg farm. Dubbed “Liberate Libby” for the poster hen who had her beak mutilated, her feathers battered from rubbing against wire walls, and spent a year with a dozen other hens in a cage, the rescue operation arranged to transport the hens to Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch in Vacaville.
The hens have been undergoing quite a bit of care. When they first arrive, the hens must be declumped, meaning staff and volunteers spend time when the chickens roost keeping them from piling on top of each other and suffocating. The chickens have never lived outside of their small cage and know no other way of being except crammed together. It takes them a while to figure out they have space to move!
They’ve undergone health checks (the hens bred to be layers for industry suffer oft-times fatal consequences of the huge number of eggs they produce and their life spans are seriously shortened). And when their laying days diminish, the majority of white Leghorn hens in California are gassed, their bodies left in landfills.
Today, I went with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) animal activists on a volunteer work day at the Rescue Ranch. Our mission, to catch one by one each chicken to go through a dosing of Ivermectin, a dewormer, as the last part of their health checking. They stay at Rescue Ranch for a total of two months; for the rest of their stay they get to be chickens and also get some socializing. Our first lesson, how to hold a chicken, was provided using Libby herself as our patient demo chicken.
We divided into teams and headed to the barns. Another group had assisted Saturday with quite a few of the hens, so our group had about 900 to catch for their treatment. Needless to say, the chickens didn’t really want to be caught and dosed with dewormer. It took a while for some of us to get the hang of it; go slow and be quiet, and work them into corner. DON’T make a lot of noise, chase them around, and generally make an idiot of yourself! Interestingly, each and every one of seemed to be talking softly to the chickens as we caught and held them, calling them Sweetie and telling them we were sorry and that everything would be okay.
As we caught the chickens, we took them to the dosing line, where 4 experienced handlers were waiting to receive and dose the chickens and send them to the outdoor pen so we could keep track of who had and hadn’t been treated. A fairly efficient assembly line formed.
And eventually all of the chickens were on the outside, not the inside.
Then it was time to clean the barns, oh joy. We gathered up eggs (and there were a lot of eggs), raked dirty straw, scraped perches, spread clean straw and topped the hay bales with wood shavings (for absorption and easier cleaning, I presume). It might sound strange, but the eggs are fed back to the chickens. We tossed them on the ground in the outside pen (splat!) and the chickens eagerly ran and started pecking away. The nutrients they lost are thus returned to their depleted bodies.
I was surprised to hear music playing in the biggest of the barns; apparently it keeps the raccoons from stealing in and killing the chickens. Raccoons don’t like classic rock I guess! There were also much appreciated fans blowing in the big barn. It gets hot in Vacaville.
As a gesture of thanks, Animal Place provided us with drinks and snacks in the shade of a lovely tree. It was hard work, but great to get to know some feisty chickens and spend some time with my new DxE friends.
The California drought is quite apparent in this part of California; the hills are dry and the fire danger is high. It can be hard to believe the drought is as bad as it is living in the Bay Area, but the land is suffering.
Thank you to the DxE organizers for this event. It was my first work day at an animal sanctuary and it was hot but fun. Looking forward to the next one! I hope to eventually get to spend some time with goats at one of these work days. And thank you so much for the hospitality of the folks at Animal Place and for the amazing work they do for the animals.