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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
We have been watching them with great joy from the first day just learning to be chickens. When we first put them in the large "infirmary" cage we have used before for others like them (though we very much wish we had a yard and house instead if a cage for this and do intend to one day soon) to keep them in isolation from the rest of the flock until we could be sure they were healthy and would not get everyone else sick, they were uncertain what to do about this new situation. As we didn't happen to have a fresh batch of straw, we had hastily filled the cage with a bunch of dry leaves and pine straw for bedding. It was quite funny to watch them stretch their feet slowly out, carefully putting them down on this new surface, checking it all out. It was heartwarming, too, to know that they were now going to begin their lives as real chickens and not "product" at Tyson. They started learning to preen themselves and each other as well. At first they were afraid of us when we opened the door to give them food, flapping wildly and jumping around, just generally trying to get away from us. But now, they calmly watch us and even allow us to touch them. Laura even moved one of them out of the way by pushing him gently on the breast a few inches over so that she could reach the feeder today to refill it. Yet he showed no sign of being upset or afraid and didn't try to peck or anything like that. (Yes, at least one of them appears to be a rooster, as he is now crowing.) We enjoy watching them each day learn more and more how to be the chickens they deserve to be. When we watch them engage in these natural behaviors that are so denied them in those commercial houses, it just makes us so mad and even more determined to fight that terrible injustice done to these wonderful birds.
They were also quite enthusiastic about the new food they were getting - no doubt the best quality they had ever had in their lives. We are feeding them a mix of commercial feed called AllWay, with some bran, cracked corn, and black sunflower seeds, supplemented with cabbage, lettuce, and whatever vegetable and fruit scraps we may have from day to day. At first, we went slow with this variety, so as to not upset their digestive systems that were so used to the poor and unvaried food they had been fed their entire lives. Gradually we increased the variety as they got more and more used to it.
I have to mention something here that I think is quite important. Lately, my Battery Hens. After checking them out, I went ahead and joined, and we have had some interesting conversations there. That was where I got my last post, if you remember. But, after that, in the members' zeal for sharing other chicken stories, I was given a link in a post to one story that profoundly disturbed me.
As reported in the post:
"This girl was a 'broiler', a Cornish-X Cross, and also a very beloved pet. Unfortunately, she was also genetically bred to become the chicken equivalent of a 300-lb. 5-yr-old.She was purchased as a very young chick. As soon as her owner realized what was happening, she put Eggnus on a restricted diet,and went to all manner of trouble to try to slow her growth and keep her healthy. But genes rule, and Eggnus died, probably of heart or other organ failure, before she reached a year of age, as is common for this breed."
This was quite disturbing to read. I know that the person doing this had the best of intentions, and I have heard the same theory repeated many times, but almost always the same disastrous results happen if this advice is followed. Here is why:
Although she is absolutely correct that the genetic alterations the industry has inflicted upon these chickens has been severe and disastrous for their health and well-being, and although she did what she thought was best, following advice that sounded like it came from an industry journal, it is not the best way to rehabilitate these birds. Trying to restrict their abnormal growth rate through a restriction of diet is the absolute worst thing that a person can do. Now, you wouldn't want to feed them things that were very fattening, however, you must keep in mind that their bodies are growing much faster than their organs can keep up with. And they will pretty much grow this quickly no matter how much you do or don't feed them. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to try to help their organs develop fast enough to keep up with the growth of their bodies. What we have done is to feed them enough to fill their bellies of the right foods, giving them no more than they need at one time, but doing it several times a day. Basically, we have fed them in the same way that a person eats. Enough to not feel hungry, but not so much as to have them eat too much at one time. They need lots of whole grains and greens. We also give them calcium in the form of parched egg shells. They love these. Parching them in the oven for about 5-10 minutes at 350-375 will kill any bacteria that may be harbored in the shells. Most shelters boil the eggs whole and feed them back to the chickens.
There is a great description of how one of our favorite sanctuaries, Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center, feeds their chickens, found here:
The chickens at our sanctuary are outside from dawn to dusk, spending much of their time foraging for greens and insects. (Yes, they eat worms like many other birds.) Whenever one of their foraging areas is depleted, we reseed it with clover, alfalfa, wheat grass, or rye grass. We also supply a natural diet of grains and seeds, supplemented by whatever fruits and vegetables are cheap and in season. We hope, over time, to grow more of their food ourselves, to cut down on costs.Chickens especially love sunflower seeds, leafy greens, and strawberries, all of which are good for them. Chickens also love cracked corn, because it is sweet, but cannot be given too much of it because it is low in nutritional value compared to the other elements of their diet. Chickens go crazy for spaghetti, with or without sauce, and never get enough hard boiled eggs.We take a pro-active approach to health at the sanctuary and therefore supplement the chickens' food with vitamins and herbs. We use a water soluble vitamin and mineral supplement once per week and at times of stress, such as changes in housing or particularly hot or cold weather. We mix kelp or healthful herbs into the feed whenever we can afford to and also use herbs to relieve symptoms when a bird is sick.
United Poultry Concerns also has a great page on care of chickens here:
Birds should have fresh clean accessible water at all times, and fresh food. Food and water bowls should be cleaned (not just refilled) every day and refilled. Birds NEED GREENS: greenleaf lettuce is especially favored! Any dark green leafy. Chickens like (and need) greens, tomatoes, grains and seeds. They also like treats like cooked spaghetti. They also like to peck at whole green cabbages. They also love ripe melons and bananas and grapes.
At both of these sites, there is also information as to how to care for sick or injured chickens, and if you have a problem, just write them and they will be happy to answer your questions.
Bottom line here is that since you can't undo the damage done by genetic tampering, all a rescuer can do is to try to help the birds keep up with the tremendous growth weight. Do not restrict their diet to try to slow their growth rate. This is impossible and will kill them.
Although we do use some commercial feed because of not having enough funding, we do our best to limit the amount we use by supplementing it with as much of the other, healthier options that we can. And, as much as we wish we could let these birds roam free during the day and forage for themselves, which is definitely the best thing for them, again, financially we have been unable to build big enough facilities and fenced yards to protect them from predators, including our cats and dogs. We hope to one day be able to build better and bigger facilities, especially for the rescues and sick birds, so that we do not have to confine them in a cage temporarily until they can be put into the rest of the flock or given a yard and house to themselves. We re hoping to be able to do just that very soon, as it is high on our list of priorities, as it seems like we will continue to receive these rescued birds, especially since one of the local shelters now have our names as willing to take in chickens and other animals, at least temporarily, since all the shelters take in are cats and dogs. It is looking more and more like we will eventually become a sanctuary, so we desperately need to get these facilities ready for the inevitable flow of rescues that continue to come our way.
On this note, I would like to let you all know of the change in donation policy. As Laura and I are in a somewhat better financial situation than before, all donations received will now go to our efforts to rescue and educate the public. There will be no more using the donated funds to pay our bills, unless there is some type of emergency that requires us to use some to pay the phone bill to keep our internet connection alive, though this is highly unlikely. We have finally gotten Laura into a program that pays most of her doctor bills and covers the majority of her medicines, and I have been able to get more work than before from fellow animal lovers around here that support what we are doing.
Our current priorities are now building new and better facilities for the chickens and gathering enough funding to get us to the AR2005 conference, where I have been invited (and accepted) to speak. All donations will be kept separate from our own money in a separate account and accounted for down to every penny. We will be happy to provide that information at any time to anyone who asks how much has been received and how it is spent. We have also stepped up efforts to get our formal designation as a charity, so that will help, too. We have set a goal of raising $1000 for the trip to Los Angeles in July for the AR2005 conference, and any funds that may be left over from that will be spent on the birds here and/or towards creating leaflets, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and other promotional material, as I have been recently asked for those materials on several occasions from a variety of organizations and individuals. In fact, we intend to keep a running total of funding raised for the trip on the blog here so that everyone can see for themselves how the fund-raising is going and how much closer we are to meeting our goal.
For those wanting to donate, there is the PayPal button on the site, or you can send them direct to me at General Delivery, Pine Ridge, AR, 71966. Together we can make this happen and make some much needed changes in the lives of many animals, especially the poor chickens.
I would like to share with you one more thing before I close this post out. Another link provided to me lately is this one. The stories on this page (as on many others) show how intelligent and individual chickens really are. I dream of the day that the public views them as the interesting and wonderful intelligent feeling birds they truly are and not simply as a meal.
I, for one, plan to devote my life to doing just that as does Laura and many others that we work with on a daily basis.
Again, I am not alone, as I continue to discover every day.