Morning Fresh: A Machine Sprung Forth From Nightmares

By Alexis Low

The first time I went, I wasn't sure what to expect; I'd only ever seen images of places where animals were exploited, and how could an image ever hope to expose the reality of such a thing? Just as no photograph can communicate the beauty of the landscape, or the smile of a loved one, no image that we brought out of this farm can convey the immensity of even the single moment it displays. For every image of the dead and dying, there were dozens of others who were suffered in the same conditions, out of the camera’s reach.

It's true that when we found her, Annie was dying, flat on the floor, her beak caked shut with dried shit. But she was surrounded by half a dozen other people who had died the same way. And those who were still alive--as alive as one can be in such a place-- were going to be dead soon. Writing this, I can't help but think of the ones we were too late to save, and the thousands we left behind. We saved Annie, but we couldn't save them. I know that it's better to see it the opposite way: we couldn't save them, but we saved Annie. Still, I'm haunted by the cold, dead, crumpled bodies; the starving hens, keelbones protruding; the cacophony of ten thousand bewildered voices seeming to cry, "this isn't right; this can't be right."

Morning Fresh is a machine sprung forth from nightmares. Separated by miles from most humans as it is, it's still a short drive from my home. The callousness of our species is removed from us by words, not so much by distance. This night--the night we rescued Annie--was cold, much colder than the first night I had gone to the farm. My throat filled with the sorrow of our imminent witnessing. I relished the cold as it bit through the layers of my clothing, as if I was paying penance for what my species does to theirs.

The farm is a machine not only metaphorically, but literally as well. The first room we entered is the final one in the process of this kind of exploitation. Here, the eggs are brought in on a long, thin conveyor, through a washing machine, and placed into packaging; no humanity required in the process, so all humanity removed. It seems the least abhorrent room of the farm, but follow the conveyor, and you come to see how the packaged product at the end links to the beginning of the nightmare.

Each of the sheds--of which there are over a dozen--hold thousands of hens captive. To manipulate their bodies into producing as many eggs as possible, each shed is kept on an artificial lighting cycle. In this shed, the lights were off, and a flashlight into the darkness revealed the outline of a bulky machine, all pipes and gears and two wide conveyors. To either side was a chain link fence, and we caught a glimpse of thousands of glittering eyes and thin bodies with patchy feathers. Shining the light for too long causes them to panic, so we had to move on.

Next was a shed lit with harsh red light. The entire room enclosed three vast cages spanning the shed, each with thousands of hens wandering among each other. On each side, these cages consist of a few tiers of wire shelves--painful for hens to walk upon--with the top tier being the area where food and water are distributed. Hens who are unable to climb the tiers are unable to reach food or water, and so they die. Both of the bottom two tiers are slanted forward, causing eggs that are laid here to roll forward against a rail and underneath a plate which prevents chickens from reclaiming the product of their forced labor.

The barn floors were covered with dust and littered with feathers, piles of shit, and dead bodies. There were human-sized stairs leading to the top tiers, A human-sized walkway led through the middle of the cages. Under here, you can see what the two wide conveyors are for: collecting shit that has fallen through the wires, and the bodies of hens who have died and fallen from the wire shelves.

As I walked, the hens concentrated near me, keeping a few feet away. This environment was bleak, with nowhere to explore, and nothing to find but dust, feathers, and shit. With little else of interest, it's no wonder that they followed me carefully, as they must be starving for enrichment just as much as they are starving for food.

If only I had arms big enough to scoop them all up. If only I had wings to carry them all to safety. If only I had something for them, somewhere to take them. If only I could break them free. If only I could upend the whole system that created this hell. I wish so badly that I could have saved them all.

Spotting a crowd of dead bodies, I crouched to get a better look. Among the hens who we are mourning, one moved slightly. I wondered if I was just imagining things, and blinked against what seemed to be a trick of the mind; but no, there was movement. It can't be real--she's laying face down, not normal for a hen, and her face is buried in shit and dust--but I moved closer anyway. And yes, she really was moving. Shocked, I picked her up,  examining her, my heart breaking. She's so thin, so sick. Her tiny, labored breaths rattled in her throat, and I feared that she wouldn’t make it. Her beak was caked shut, her eyes were closed. She wasn’t moving in my arms except to breathe.

I held her carefully, afraid that any amount of force would break her tiny, frail body. I tried to wipe away the filth on her face. I kissed her beak, her comb, her face, and I begged her to hold on. I promised that we would get her to help. I told her that there are others like her, that were sick, but were now safe at my home, and that she'll get to meet them; that she'll get to feel the warm sun and the dirt--real dirt--and grass, and eat her fill every day, and sleep in safety every night. I told her she would live.

Thank you, Annie, for holding on.

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