When you work with animals, it seems there’s always something going on that keeps you on your toes! We’ve certainly had an active summer and fall at the California Shelter – and just when we thought it couldn’t get any busier around here, we welcomed 40 special needs hens from a large “free range” egg facility to the sanctuary. These hens had been slated for slaughter, but were rescued in the nick of time and brought to us to receive rehabilitative care for a range of serious health problems.
When they were just tiny chicks, the hens were fitted with leg bands at the farm where they were raised. These bands were supposed to expand as the birds grew, but in this case that didn’t happen so they started to cut into the hens’ legs, leaving many with open wounds down to the bone. As a result, a lot of these poor girls have developed permanent limps that will require ongoing treatment. Some even walk on their knuckles, or place their weight on their toes instead of on their foot pads like chickens normally would.
Fifteen of the hens have such severe limps that we have moved them into the barn where our easy-going turkey hens reside, so they can enjoy a slower pace of life and don’t have as much competition for food. Here, they will have a very good quality of life and start to thrive with continued special care.
Other birds arrived with a condition called “vent gleet.” Because today’s egg-laying hens are selectively bred to lay more than 260 eggs a year, their vents begin to stretch over time, causing urates (the bird equivalent of urine), to drip onto their abdomens and irritate their skin. When this liquid waste builds up, it can cause sores to form on the chickens’ vents and tissue in the surrounding areas to become necrotic. In order to prevent this from happening, we regularly clean the girls’ abdomens and vents with warm water and treat these areas with a triple antibiotic ointment.
Sadly, reproductive issues are also all too common among modern chickens who are pushed to their biological limits to produce such a large number of eggs, and they can often be quite severe. One of the hens from this rescue, a sweet girl named Georgia, required surgery when we detected a large mass in her abdomen. We immediately took her to the veterinary hospital, where radiographs revealed that she had several eggs stuck in her oviduct. Without surgery, she had little chance of survival, so we decided to proceed to try to save her. Luckily, all the eggs were successfully removed and she came back to the shelter a completely different chicken: she was active and talkative rather than lethargic and quiet. Many hens, however, are not as lucky and countless birds die from similar conditions every year.
The state that these animals arrived in is likely very contrary to what many people envision when they think about “free range” facilities. But while animals raised on these kinds of farms may suffer less than their cousins on factory farms, a hard look at “humane” facilities reveals that conditions can often be very far from ideal. Besides the fact that labels like “free range” refer to a wide range of living conditions that may not be consistent with consumers’ expectations, animals raised for eggs, milk and meat – no matter what kind of facility they are raised at – usually endure the same mutilations (such as debeaking), suffer from the same health conditions due to their breeding, and meet the same horrific end at the slaughterhouse.
Thankfully, the hens are doing very well overall and already their future is looking brighter. Curious and friendly, they are coming out of their shells more and more each day and taking full advantage of their second chance at life. We couldn’t be happier to give them the care they need to live the rest of their lives in comfort and peace, and are doing everything we can to keep them on the track to better health.