The Chicken Who Was Left Behind
If you take a drive through the countryside, you will likely pass several chicken farms – although you might not realize that’s what you’re looking at. The typical chicken factory farm is composed of several long, low-slung, windowless metal sheds. At first glance, you might assume they’re warehouses of some kind that are used to store farm equipment or hay. Surely they don’t keep living beings in such places?
Oh, but they do.
Madeline was one of those living beings. Two PETA fieldworkers were on their way to a call in rural North Carolina when they spotted a flash of white in the field next to an empty Perdue chicken barn. Was it a stray plastic bag or a discarded Styrofoam container? It went by in a flash as they drove down the highway, but they could have sworn it was a chicken.
The fieldworkers turned around and returned to the farm, pulling their van into the driveway. There she was, a very small chicken, wandering all alone in the field, just a few feet away from speeding cars. Madeline was only a few weeks old, still a baby, just like all “broiler” chickens when they are sent to slaughter. The average age of slaughtered “broilers” is just 6 or 7 weeks, younger than a weaned kitten. They are killed before they ever get a chance to live.
She likely had been left behind when the rest of the birds in the barn were rounded up for the trip to the slaughterhouse. Perhaps Madeline had fled the scary people who grabbed the other chickens by the wings, legs, or neck and slammed them into transport cages as they shrieked in terror and pain. Maybe she had simply been overlooked in the confusion or had been purposely left behind because she was undersized.
Madeline may have seemed like the luckiest chicken in the world, but her reprieve was only temporary. There was no way she was going to survive by herself: She had no food or water, she couldn’t fly, and her white feathers stood out like a beacon, making her extremely vulnerable to predators. She was all alone. Forgotten. Discarded like a piece of trash along the highway.
There was a man standing next to the barn, smoking a cigarette, seemingly oblivious to the little bird walking nearby. The fieldworkers approached the man and asked if they could take the chicken, knowing the man was unlikely to make any effort to care for her. Farmers accept some “losses” as the cost of doing business. When you cram tens of thousands of birds into a single shed and force them to live amid their own waste and inhale ammonia fumes from their own urine, some chickens inevitably get sick, as diseases spread like wildfire in such horrendous conditions. Or the birds’ legs become crippled when their genetically manipulated bodies grow too fast, and they starve or die of dehydration when they can’t reach food or water troughs. Or they die of heat exhaustion when the electricity goes out and the big fans grind to a halt.
This was just one little bird out of the thousands of farmer had just shipped out. A cog in the machine. The man shrugged his shoulders with infinite boredom. Whatever you want to do, crazy ladies.
The fieldworkers gently scooped Madeline up and put her in one of the cat carriers that they always have in the van. Perhaps she realized that she was safe, because she started gently cooing and murmuring to herself. Chickens have at least 24 different cries, chirps, and squawks to warn other birds about a predator, announce when they have laid an egg, or just say “good morning.” Madeline kept up a constant stream of chatter all the way back to PETA’s headquarters.
She spent the night there, charming everyone she met with her curiosity and friendliness, surprising for a bird who had been through what she had and had every reason to fear and flee from humans.
The next day, two staffers drove Madeline to a sanctuary, where she was placed in the infirmary for a few days to give her a chance to recover before she was transferred to a spacious barn and pasture, where the other rescued chickens lived.
It didn’t take the intrepid little hen long to settle in at her new home. Chickens are extremely social animals, and Madeline quickly befriended the other birds – and the humans, too. She was once a small, forlorn bundle of dirty feathers, but she blossomed after she was rescued.
Madeline’s rescuers can’t fathom how people can justify killing and eating such smart, social, personable birds. The average American is responsible for the deaths of approximately 2,500 chickens over his or her lifetime – billions of chickens are slaughtered for food in the U.S. alone every year. When you consider the sheer volume- the number of lives involved and the enormous suffering and pain that each bird endures- chickens may well be the most abused animals on the planet.
Chickens aren’t vegetables or walking entrees – they are living, breathing feeling individuals who have distinct personalities and interests. Just ask Madeline – she’ll tell you.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
MOHANDAS K. GANDHI
Taken from Peta 35, Love for Animals Large and Small by: Ingrid Newkirk forward by Bob Barker