I am writing this piece in observance of International Respect for Chickens Day, May 4, 2014. Many people don’t realize the plight of chickens and other birds used to supply our meat chain in our daily lives. The chicken is not a dumb and ignorant bird as many people are inclined to think. In actuality they are sensitive and intelligent creatures, but their whole life when being raised to provide us their eggs and meat is horrendous to downright unconscionable. The story I am about to tell about this much abused bird from birth to death is taken directly from brochures and fact sheets provided by United Poultry Concerns, a leading advocate for the protection and rights of the chicken, located here in my own state of Virginia. I write this story because I fully support what this great group is doing and want to see the chicken get the respect and admiration and protection this noble bird deserves. Here is that story:
"Chickens enjoy being together in small flocks, sunning, dustbathing, 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.
"The rooster proudly keeps watch over the flock. He alerts the hens if he senses danger, and when he finds a tasty morsel for his family to share, he calls them excitedly. Roosters often join in the hen’s egg-laying ritual, which is an extremely important and private part of a chicken’s life.
"'In the U.S., each year, 9 billion “broiler” (baby) chickens, both males and females, are raised and killed for food. Worldwide over 50 billion chickens are now being slaughtered every year. As a result of genetic manipulation for overgrown muscle tissue (meat) of the breast and thighs, these birds suffer miserably from painful lameness causing them to crouch and hobble in pain, from gastrointestinal and blood diseases, and chronic respiratory infections. The parents of these birds are raised in darkness and kept on semi-starvation diets to reduce the mating infirmities caused by forcing chickens bred for meat to grow too large too fast.
'During their 45 days of life, “broiler” chickens live in semi-darkness on manure-soaked wood shavings, unchanged through several flocks of 30,000 or more birds in a single shed. Excretory ammonia fumes often become so strong that the birds develop a blinding eye disease called ammonia burn. So painful is this disease that afflicted birds rub their hurting eyes with their wings and let out cries of pain.
“Broiler” chickens are crowded by the thousands into filthy, closed sheds contaminated with poisonous Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria. In addition to sickening the birds, these bacteria often remain in the cooked flesh, a common cause of food po
'The modern hen used for egg production is far removed from the active Southeast Asian jungle fowl from whom she’s derived and from the active farmyard birds of the more recent past. She is a painfully debeaked, tortured bird who is jammed in a wire cage for a year or two, squeezed together with 8 or 9 other tormented hens in sheds holding 50,000 to 125,000 terrified, bewildered birds.
'"A small bird, forced to churn out huge numbers of large eggs, this hen is prone to a cruel condition known as Uterine Prolapse. When a small chicken pushes and strains day after day to expel large eggs, her uterus pushes out through the vent area leading to painful infection and a slow, agonizing death. The egg industry deprives hens of all food or severely restricts their rations from one to three weeks straight to manipulate egg laying and market prices, and to “save feed costs.” This practice is called Forced Molting.
"Cooped for life without exercise while constantly drained of calcium to produce egg shells, laying hens develop osteoporosis, a mineral depletion and breaking of the bones from which many hens die miserably in their cages, often with their heads trapped between the bars. This disease of imprisonment is called Caged Layer Fatigue. Approximately 300 million hens are caged for egg production in the U.S. each year, 26 million in Canada, and 40 million in the U.K. Worldwide, about 5600 million hens are living in cages.
"What happens to the 250 million male chicks born to hens in the U.S. egg industry each year?
"Along with defective and slow-hatching female chicks, they are trashed as soon as they hatch. Upon breaking out of their shells, instead of being sheltered by a mother’s wings, the newborns are ground up alive, electrocuted, or thrown into trashcans where they slowly suffocate on top of one another, peeping to death while a human foot stomps them down to make more room for more chicks. Because the male chicken of the egg industry cannot lay eggs, and has not been genetically manipulated for profitable meat production, he is of no use to the egg industry. Destruction of unwanted male chicks is a worldwide practice.
"At 6 - 12 weeks old, baby “broiler” and “roaster” chickens are cornered and grabbed by catching crews and carried upside down by their legs – struggling, flapping, and crying – to the transport truck. Jammed inside coops they may travel up to 12 hours to the slaughterhouse through heat, wind, rain, sleet, and snow without food or water.
"Spent laying hens are simply flung from the battery cages to the transport crates by their wings, feet, legs, head, or whatever is grabbed. They are electrocuted, suffocated, buried alive, gassed, or chopped to pieces, alive, by woodchipper blades. Half-naked from feather loss caused by crowded caging, and terrorized by a lifetime of abuse, hens in transport experience such intense fear that many are paralyzed by the time they reach their final destination – the rendering company, slaughterhouse, landfill, grinder. Starved for 4 days before catching, they are a mass of broken bones, oozing abscesses, bruises, and internal hemorrhage. They are covered with the slime of broken eggs and pieces of shells. When not buried alive, these hens are shredded into human food, pet food, mink feed and poultry feed.
"At the slaughterhouse, after being held in the trucks for 1 to 12 hours, chickens raised for meat are torn from the cages and hung upside down on a movable rack. As they move towards the killing knife, they are dragged through an electric current that paralyzes them but does not render them unconscious or pain-free. Millions of birds are alive, conscious and breathing not only as their throats are cut but afterwards, when their bodies are plunged into scalding water to remove their feathers. In the scalder “the chickens scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads.” The industry calls these birds “redskins” – birds who were scalded while they were still alive.
"What Can I Do?
"Please show kindness and respect to birds and other animals by not eating them or their eggs or drinking their milk. Instead, discover the variety of all-vegetarian, vegan foods and cooking ideas. For recipes and cookbooks, go to HappyCow.net.
"Contact your federal and state senators and representatives. Urge them to pass laws banning battery cages and debeaking. Urge them to include poultry under the Federal Humane Slaughter Act.
"Stick up for chickens. Tell your family and friends how badly chickens are treated. Contact your newspaper editor and TV and radio stations, using the information in this brochure to educate people. Urge everyone to join you in making a better life for chickens.
“Write to United Poultry Concerns, PO Box 150, Machipongo, VA 23405 (or call 757-678-7875, or visit our website at upc-online.org) for more information.”
That is their story. I hope you now have a greater appreciation of this noble bird and will see to it the chickens receive the respect they deserve. Brutal treatment of any animals is unacceptable. If you are deeply touched by the plight of chickens, please follow the advice given above to help chickens, and encourage others to join you.