Sunday, February 26, 2012

47,000 Dead: Does Anyone Care?

Just this week, 47,000 creatures lost their lives and almost no one noticed.

A&L Poultry, the owner of an egg farm in Turlock, California, decided to close down its egg operations and simply left to starve all of the chickens at their plant. 47,000 of the chickens, left with no food and no water for over 2 weeks, died of starvation and dehydration. This kind of a death is slow and agonizing; according to doctors who have witnessed starvation and dehydration among children in Africa, it results in dizziness, weakness, cramping, nausea, and dry heaves. It is a horrible way to die.

And yet 47,000 chickens died this way this week. A&L Poultry said: “An attempt to arrange for delivery of the chickens to a third party in order to avoid the usual business practice of euthanizing the chickens resulted in an unacceptable situation A&L Poultry did not intend, and profoundly regrets.”

The “usual business practice,” then, when an egg-laying farm is to shut down, is to kill all of the birds. In this case, the unacceptable situation was that the birds starved slowly to death, while not a single employee of A&L Poultry noticed, or cared. A video taken inside the abandoned facility showed tens of thousands of dead and dying birds; because egg-laying chickens are stuffed tightly into cages with other hens, the survivors were sharing quarters with their dead sisters. Watching this silent, eerie video is enough to make a grown man—or woman—weep. I know I did.

This horrifying story, which has received just the tiniest bit of press, has a happy ending for some of the birds, however. Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary and Animal Place, animal sanctuaries in Stockton and Vacaville, stepped in, negotiated with the owners (who initially told the rescuers to leave the property) and rescued about 4,600 of the survivors. Farm Sanctuary will be taking some of the birds as well.

Many of these survivors are unbelievably weak; some can barely stand, but all are getting stronger and healthier thanks to the love and care of the volunteers at Harvest Home and at Animal Place. The sickest of the birds, now at Harvest Home, were left to suffocate under the manure pits at A&L. These birds will get to live the rest of their lives walking around on the grass, pecking for grubs and roots, and enjoying the California sunshine.

Is that too much to ask for the rest of this country’s chickens? If eggs are going to be enjoyed by millions of Americans, is it too much to ask that the chickens who provide them get to live a life of contentment, of peace, and of happiness? Or are we so greedy and selfish that even animals who provide so much to so many should get denied even the simplest pleasures, and must live short hellish lives of misery? And then die in agony?