Creature or commodity? The chickens you eat are slaughtered at six or seven weeks of age and the ones whose eggs you buy at the grocery are “discarded” after one or, at most, two seasons of laying. In a nation hungry for its protein, you can see how the lines get blurred.
But last week, a line was crossed, one so egregious that mainstream news picked up the shocking story: Turlock, CA egg farmer Andy Keung Cheung abandoned 50,000 hens when he reportedly ran out of money to feed them. He just walked away and left them to starve.
According to the Modesto Bee “Authorities say the hens had not been fed in more than two weeks. About one-third died of starvation, while thousands were in such poor condition they had to be euthanized.”
I heard about it via Hope’s Twitter feed since she follows MyPetChicken, who tweeted a plea for donations to help the surviving hens. I was so horrified by the story that I managed to make a donation from my Blackberry via my PayPal account while I was walking down the street (who says modern technology is not sublime?)
I received an appreciative email from Kim Sturla at Animal Place, thanking me for my donation and providing an update on the rescue operation. Kim shared that their “exhausted small staff and volunteers have been working around the clock” to save as many of the starving, debeaked hens as possible. And she mentioned that the food bill alone is $300 a day until the birds are healthy enough to be adopted out.
The ethical issues of battery chicken farming are complicated and difficult. I won’t even begin to debate them here. I can even summon up an iota (only an iota, nothing more) of compassion for Mr. Cheung, who perhaps was at the end of his financial and emotional tether when he walked away from the birds that represented his livelihood. But, as a backyard flock owner, my heart is with the hens and with these organizations who saved the lives of so many of them this week. May all those little ladies find loving homes soon!