Free-range, cage-free humane chicken farming? Perhaps not…

In June last year, I wrote about an organisation in Colorado, USA, called the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary.

I’d received their compelling Letter from a Vegan World via a South African group of Vegans calling themselves Elated, an acronym for “Enhancing the Lives of Animals Through Ethical Decisions”.

I hadn’t visted their blog (Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary) for a while, as it’s not updated very often, but today made time for a long visit.

In 2007, Jewel Johnson from this animal sanctuary wrote a disturbing article titled “A Rare Glimpse Inside A ‘Free-Range’ Egg Facility”. This apeared in the Prairie News of Spring/Summer 2007, Volume 8, Issue 8, and it was a first-hand account of her visits to two different so-called ‘cage-free’ or ‘free-range’ chicken farms, one of which had been, incredibly, certified organic.

It’s enough to make one’s stomach turn inside out.

It also places a question mark over all the claims made by ‘organic’, ‘free-range’, ‘grain-fed’ chicken farmers about ‘humane’ farming methods and the procedures used to obtain certification.

And, more worrying, if such blatant distortions of the truth are happening in a land as civilised, highly-developed and regulated as the USA (though some would question the validity of such adjectives), what does that mean for a country like our’s, which has even fewer environmental laws and agencies capable of enforcing them?

In November of 2007 the amazing people of the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary brought home a truckload of 100 hens that had been rescued from a ‘free-range’ egg facility. They were going to be discarded, read: slaughtered or gassed, because they were no longer able to produce eggs at the required high rate.

Fortunately, these 100 hens were saved.

The article they wrote at the time of bringing these ‘spent’ hens (!) to the sanctuary was titled simply “Coming Home”. It was gut-wrenching:

“For the first few minutes, they were eerily silent. No one peeped, no one one moved. They just watched us with the breath of frail creatures. Some lengthened their bare necks and peered at the sun-filled world with silent, briny eyes, blinking, looking at the great outdoors with eyes unaccustomed to daylight, open spaces, or any other sight except the bareness of the windowless shed they had been confined to since infancy. Others slumped with infinite fatigue, caving within themselves – shoulders sinking, wings dragging, heads drooping, too weak and weary to even look up. A couple were dead, their cooling bodies wilted over their still warm eggs, their feathers stirring hauntingly in the living breeze, their eyes lidded so completely that they seemed to never have existed, to never have illuminated that face, shut with such finality, as though determined to keep the horrors of the world finally, safely, irreversibly out.”

To read the rest of that well-written article, click here.

A year later, in October 2008, an update appeared on the transformation that the surviving hens had undergone:

“It’s hard to believe that these vibrant birds, crackling with life and wonder, are the same “free-range” hens who arrived at the sanctuary one year ago, bruised, battered, bewildered, disconnected from the world around them and from their own selves, unable or unwilling to inhabit their own lives (what was there to inhabit?).

Yet here they are today, fully present and fully immersed in the lives they managed to reclaim, restore, and rebuild from nothing, the absolute nothing to which we reduce persons like them for a handful of eggs. Here they are today, fully engaged in living, playing, exploring, learning new skills, solving problems, tackling the daily challenges of living, enjoying the fruits of their efforts and finding them good. To our relentless attack on life, they responded with life; to our dimwitted view of life, they responded with intelligence, to our contempt for life, they responded with wonder. Each in her own way.”

You can read the rest of their extraordinary stories, complete with pictures, here.

I don’t think it is possible to read those articles – and any of the others beautiful, tender, compassionate, heartache-filled, courageous, insiprational stories – without bursting into tears at some point.

I think what makes all these stories so emotionally charged is the fact that each rescued animal is recognised as an individual, a unique sentient being, – with his or her own life history, fears, health problems, hopes, needs, and longing for love.

All the goats, sheep, cows, pigs, geese, chickens, turkeys, etc. who end up at the sanctuary have a name (which is something I can totally relate to), and their stories are lovingly, compassionately told (see “Meet the Residents”), with loving close-up photographs of so many of them!

i would so love to sponsor an animal – though it’s hard at the current exchange rate of more than R10 to 1 US$. But if you do have some spare cash, US$ 100 will sponsor one hen for an entire year, US$ 200 a rooster, US$ 280 a goat, US$ 300 a sheep and US$ 600 a cow.


Some more articles about ‘free-range’ chicken farming from AnimalRights.Change.Org

3 thoughts on “Free-range, cage-free humane chicken farming? Perhaps not…

  1. Don’t overestimate the US’s environmental and humanitarian protections – they are, to say the least, questionable. Especially after 8 years of Bush. I can’t compare the SA situation but I doubt it’s much worse. Have you read My Year of Meat? A novel, but an eye-opening one!

  2. Oh dear… we had such a tasty chicken dinner tonight… I hope I don’t get indigestion…

    In an effort to raise some genuine free range chickens, many individuals in the Halifax area started keeping chickens in their backyards. However, over the past year, city council voted to have the chickens evicted. Some of these had become family pets over the years. What a shame.

    As the safety of our food supply becomes more and more questionable, I can see more people wanting to raise and grow their own food. I can also see this clashing with municipal by-laws. Though personally, I wouldn’t mind it one bit, not everyone wants to be awakened by the crowing of a rooster.

  3. To wit! Hi Regg, to assume that the USA is regulated is rather a misnomer, as a society we are regulated; to the aim of allowing business with money to continue to make money; no regulation exists whatsoever to allow for an average citizen to have a content life. Most of the laws have zero to do with prompting a safe, caring, peaceful society. At best we are an anarchy that has not exploded! May all life find peace and hopefully the USA will become more happily regulated and just et cetera. Many people are still more or less cowboys of the worst sort… but today is the best hope we have for many years


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