Eight years ago, I stood in someone’s backyard filming a flock of chickens free-ranging, whose eggs I was there to retrieve. I later posted the flick on Facebook under the headline “How chickens should have it.” I was already a vegetarian for the animals, but truth be told, I had no idea how much suffering I was still contributing to and how wrong I was in my assumption that these chickens were treated kindly and fairly. Nor did I have any idea the implications of excessive egg laying for the birds themselves, or that the rate of laying we see in domesticated hens are excessive and human-made.
Fast forward to 2014: I had turned vegan, but still had a lot to learn about chickens and hens’ reproductive health, when I was offered to look after my then-landlords’ chickens when they went away for a year. The alternative would’ve been that these animals would have been killed, or so I was told, and I just couldn’t stand idly by and see something so horrible happen to innocent animals so, knowing nothing about how to tend to chickens, I said I would take them on, and figured I’d just had to learn on the “job.” And a few weeks later, on August 14th, 2014 I became a “hen-mother” for the first time in my life. I fell into it by chance, but I quickly fell in love with the five hens and one rooster on the plot. The evening before I took over responsibility for these six chickens my former landlord came over to let me know that they were missing one hen. I was under the impression that she was missing just that one night, but when I found her the next day, nesting in a flowerbed on thirteen eggs, I quickly realized that I had been misinformed. My former landlords, the chickens’ “owners,” told me to just throw away the eggs, but after having checked every egg with a flashlight it was clear to see that three of the eggs were not only fertilized but very close to hatching. Again, I decided that these little ones would have to become “my problem” as killing them was not an option, and just like that, three little feathery beings entered my life forever. They hatched just a few days later, and as they grew, I realized that I had two girls and a boy on my hands. I named the girls Bella and Frida and the boy got the name Emil.
Upon taking over responsibility for my former landlords’ chicken for a year, I did notice a lot of things that, instinctively, I understood were wrong, but I was not knowledgeable at that point, and didn’t have anyone to converse with. The coop was covered in thick layers of feces and the smell of ammonia was so pungent it was hard to breathe in there and my eyes watered. The water in the water-container was light green with algae and slimy. I had also seen the “owners” shake hens out of their nesting boxes to get to the eggs, and the rooster was very aggressive towards the humans, amongst many other things. It broke my heart, but when I carefully tried to suggest this might not be the right way to do it, they assured me it was fine.
It took me three days to chop out most of the cemented layers of feces in the coop before I could even start cleaning in there, but once it was done, their whole living environment became a much more pleasant one.
During this year I learned so much about chickens: How sensitive and quirky they all are, and how loving they can be when they feel safe and loved. And as I learned more, every day, about the proper way of caring for chickens I also learned more about how chickens in the industry are being treated. Looking at these lovely and loving beings in my care and knowing that there are billions upon billions out there just like them who never get to experience anything other than brutality, exploitation, and suffering is completely heart wrenching, so when I unexpectedly had to move from my home in September of 2015, leaving my poor foster chickens behind, I was lucky enough to find a place for my three chickens and myself that was perfect, not only for them, but for more chickens. That’s when I decided to take on some girls from the egg-industry.
On January 5th of 2016 this dream became a reality. Initially I had planned to take in six girls, but I saw their terrified little faces in the darkness of the barn, and I smelled the horrid smell of death and layers upon layers of cemented feces everywhere…the hens themselves so depressed and hopeless, as though all life and hope had already left them a long time ago. They were dirty and scruffy, thin and malnourished, and I quickly decided to make room for two more girls. In a few quick swoops the farmer had snatched a hold of the girls feet and were carrying them upside down, as if they were shopping bags. He explained that this was the right and best way to do it because it made the chickens more submissive. He helped me carry them all out to a homemade cage my friend had made for us. I thanked the farmer and we drove away. As soon as the farmer was out of sight, I broke down and cried the rest of the way home. Thinking about all those poor souls left behind that had never, and would never, experience anything good in their lives at all, and tomorrow it would be over, as they were set to be killed the next morning. I will never forget that feeling of betrayal that I couldn’t rescue them all–all the while talking to my terrified new little girls, Pernille, Angelika, Viktoria, Martine, Ariel, Hedda, Julie, and Emma in the backseat, promising them that no one would ever cause them anymore harm ever, besides a few little worried whimpers they were all completely silent.
The coming months would turn out to be both very rewarding and very difficult. My girls were in horrible health. Some had bad prolapses, while others had equally bad infections in their reproductive organs, laying one lash egg after the other several times a day, sometimes accompanied by a lot of blood. They were stressed and frustrated out of their minds, resulting in cannibalism and severe pecking. The coop looked like a bloodbath, and one hen almost lost her tail. Thanks to a seed grant from The Microsanctuary Movement and from A Well-Fed World, all girls were able to get implanted on February 2nd to stop the egg laying, which meant they finally had a chance to recover from all their reproductive issues and start healing both mentally and physically.
Today, one year later six out of eight hens have recovered completely; two girls still have issues, but they too are a lot healthier than they were a year ago. They have all gained weight to almost twice their original weight and are so much more confident. I couldn’t have done this without all the help, both in terms of donations and grants from the Microsanctuary Movement and all their great advice. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you for everything you have done for my girls and for me.
Two of my former foster chickens have also been able to come live with me, so now there are thirteen happy chickens at Hen Haven Microsanctuary.