Roughly 250,000 hens recently perished from a fire at Ohio Fresh Eggs, Ohio’s largest egg factory. The company’s birds are kept in battery cages, cruel wire enclosures that are lined up in rows, stacked in tiers in huge factory warehouses. The hens are packed tightly and immobilized so severely that they can’t even stretch their wings. When fire or other hazards threaten, the birds have no chance of escape.
This isn’t the first disaster to kill hens en masse at Ohio Fresh Eggs. In 2000, when the company was called Buckeye Eggs, the facility was hit by a tornado. Building roofs and sides were twisted and torn off, and the cages were exposed to the sunlight, but the birds remained trapped, unable to move or obtain food, water or appropriate shelter. Approximately one million died, including many who were bulldozed inside their mangled cages amidst the debris.
When Katrina struck the gulf coast several years ago, our nation was moved and saddened by news reports showing thousands of people displaced, including those who were separated from their cats and dogs. But absent from much of the media and public attention were the 6 million farm animals, mostly chickens, who perished in the hurricane and its aftermath.
In 2008, floods ravaged Iowa and other Midwestern states. Again, farm animals were trapped in their factory farm enclosures and died by the thousands. But some lucky individuals survived, including Nikki, a female pig who had been used for breeding. Like other sows, Nikki spent most of her life in a 2-foot-wide metal crate barely larger than her body, but somebody at the farm opened her cage and gave her a chance as the flood waters rose.
A Farm Sanctuary rescue team, along with other humane groups, travelled to Iowa to help victims of the flood, and found Nikki nursing her newborn piglets on a levy. She was brought back to Farm Sanctuary and will live out the rest of her life free from human exploitation. Farm Sanctuary also sent teams to Ohio to rescue laying hens affected by the tornado and to the Gulf to help farm animals displaced by Katrina.
Farm Sanctuary has been able to rescue many animals displaced by disasters over the years. But even the survivors didn’t get off scot-free. The Buckeye hens, bred to lay more than four times as many eggs as they would in nature, suffered from reproductive problems including cysts, infections in their oviducts, and ovarian carcinoma. Chickens raised for meat are bred to grow twice as fast and twice as large as normal, and “broiler” chickens rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina struggled with weight-related health problems such as blown ligaments, joint and foot infections, and congestive heart failure. Sows we rescued from gestation crates in Iowa had sores and bruises on their bodies, and broken and missing front teeth, presumably from biting on the bars of their gestation crates.
In a response to the Ohio Fresh Eggs fire last week, the Ohio Farm Bureau predictably focused on economic issues, rather than the tragic loss of lives that occurred. Large-scale industrial agriculture puts profit over the interests of living beings, but ordinary citizens know that animals deserve better. Right now, volunteers across Ohio are gathering signatures to put a groundbreaking initiative on November’s ballot that would allow Ohio voters to prohibit cruel confinement systems. The measure would provide animals with more space and, in turn, help prevent disasters of this magnitude. Take action today. Together, we can take one small step toward improving the lives of farm animals.
Top photo: Buckeye Egg Farm ravaged by a tornado in 2000.