Caring for Hens (Video)

DxE activists woke before the crack of dawn this past Saturday to head over to Animal Place to volunteer on a cold, rainy day. We were split up into two groups, one at the main sanctuary and the other at the rescue barn. While much of the day was focused on basic tasks, such as cleaning, setting out straw, and moving refuse to the compost pile, we also had the opportunity to perform health checks on a few dozen hens rescued from an egg-laying facility. 

In California, virtually all egg-laying hens are deemed "disposal problems" after their egg production wanes. Their bodies are too weak and wiry to be used for flesh. And so, at a mere two years of age, the hens will all be killed... unless activists such as the incredible people at Animal Place step up.

The hens were impressively calm in the hands of complete strangers. 

The hens were impressively calm in the hands of complete strangers. 

On this particular day, a few hundred hens had just been moved from a rescue facility to the main sanctuary. And our task, after being trained by the wonderful Celeste and Elizabeth at Animal Place, was to perform a health check on the hens to ensure they were suitable for adoption, and/or release into the general sanctuary population. We started out by checking their heads and eyes, to ensure there were no injuries or abnormalities. We then opened the hens' tiny little mouths to see if they had any sores inside their mouth cavity. We proceeded to check their crop, their keel bone, and even their vent, for abnormalities or infections. And we trimmed both feathers and toenails too, to prevent infection and excessive growth, and to ensure that the hens were in good shape to be released into the flock. 

While we learned a lot, perhaps the most important aspect of the experience was the opportunity to bond with individual hens. When you see them in pictures, or even in person when the hens are all bunched up into a mass, it's hard to identify them. They are just a crowd, a flock, a mass -- not individuals that we can easily empathize with. But when a sanctuary worker puts an individual hen into your care, suddenly the relationship transforms. They are now not just animals, not just chickens... they are our wards and responsibilities. And we begin to notice how each is different from all the others. 

One will cluck and scramble, from the moment the health check begins. Another seems to positively enjoy the experience (or at least is so accustomed to it that she can sit calmly while being poked and prodded). Some are extraordinarily talkative, clucking through the entire process. Others are astonishingly quiet. But what one cannot deny, after these sorts of interactions, is that every hen, in all her uniqueness, has a strong will -- frustrations and desires; fears and feelings of relief. It is that will to experience the world under her own control -- to live -- that makes each hen's life and freedom so important. 

After spending the morning caring for hens, we went on the usual sanctuary tour and got to see some of the other animals.

It was a beautiful day, and one that we hope to repeat sometime soon. I hope some of you can join us!

See more pictures from our work day below!