Stories to Inspire, June: Eartha
By Jenna Nilbert
Chickens bred for meat are arguably the most genetically manipulated of all animals, forced to grow 65 times faster than their bodies normally would, and the industry continually seeks to increase their growth rate. Eartha was rescued in the summer of 2014 from a cramped, dirty cage at a county fair, where he was to be sold for meat. It was a horribly hot day, and though there was a fan in the warehouse-like building in which the birds were being displayed, the breeze from it bypassed the “food” birds, who received no relief from the blistering heat. His water was green and murky and stinking, and he panted heavily as people passed by him.
His large broiler body—bred to be killed at only six weeks old—would not have survived the day if my cousin and I had not witnessed his suffering. He was labeled for sale at ten measly dollars, which we paid, and we took him home that night. The next day he was transferred—along with goat twins Luv and Kush—to Preetirang Sanctuary, where Mukul and Madhulika graciously took the three in as new residents. Because broiler chickens are killed so young, Eartha appeared to be a hen (hence his feminine name), and it was not until later that his comb grew to be a bright red crown and he learned to crow. Perhaps due to having been placed with rescued egg-laying hens, or maybe just because of his gentle personality, Eartha got along well with the females with whom he roomed.
Everyone who met Eartha loved him, and he became a great ambassador for his species and for farmed animals in general. It was not to last, though, for shortly after midnight on May 15th, 2015, Eartha died suddenly from a heart attack. He was not even a year old. Heart failure afflicts chickens at a rate of at least 4.7%, and is attributed to genetic manipulation, but this figure only covers birds within their first 42 days of life. The rate of heart failure increases in the weeks to come, as their baby hearts cannot keep up with their ever-growing adult bodies.
Eartha died because his body was not bred to live. His body was bred to grow as quickly as possible, by any means necessary, so that he could be murdered when he was still a baby to produce an unnecessary and easily replaced "food" product. I rescued Eartha from part of this fate less than a year ago, but I could not possibly have saved him from his own body. Preetirang Sanctuary took this wonderful individual in when I could not, and they made the last months of his short life worth living-- full of dust baths, good food, cavorting with his hens, doing things a chicken is meant to do. To the last moment they were there for him, petting and singing to him as he died.
Eartha went from literally no one in the world caring about him to hundreds mourning his death when it was announced via Preetirang's Facebook page. Sweet, loveable Eartha's death will not-- it must not-- be in vain. He showed everyone he met that chickens are so much more than meat on a plate. He showed that they were capable of joy, of attachment, of friendship. Eartha was so, so special to me and everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him, but, at the same time, he was just like any other chicken. All chickens are individuals who want to live and explore their natural instincts— individuals who will not only accept, but flourish with humans if they are given the chance to express themselves. Eartha is gone now, but the effect he had on the world will live on forever. Eartha deserved so much more than what the world gave him, and he will be very, very missed.
Update: On the scorching day of June 13, 2015—almost exactly a month after Eartha’s passing—Preetirang Sanctuary held its second anniversary potluck, during which a baby chick was rescued from the side of the road and brought to live at Preetirang. The chick was named Bertha.