Americans today eat three times the amount of chicken than they did 50 years ago. In fact, the average person eats 89 pounds of chicken per year, turning the poultry industry into a $50 billion-dollar industry.
When I was a small child it never occurred to me that chicken wings were the actual wings of a bird or that drumsticks were the legs of one. I remember the day my mother told me of this dark reality, and it hurt, deeply. Perhaps that is where a seed for veganism was first planted.
In August of last year, SASHA Farm received word of a situation in Pennsylvania. A small meat producer had purchased two thousand young chicks with the intention of raising them for meat. Tragically, inadequate heat supply during one bitter cold night led to the agonizing death of nearly 1,000 of them. While his motivations are unknown, the inexperienced farmer chose to end his business endeavor by giving away the surviving chicks to neighbors and friends. Soon thereafter the ASPCA was consulted and the remaining chicks were seized by law enforcement. The story of these chicks really touched our hearts. So, 13 hours and a few pit stops later (for vegan fries at Wendy’s), SASHA founders Dorothy Davies and Monte Jackson returned with 128 fluffy peeping chicks.
Warmth, food, water, and LOVE
“I cannot do all the good that the worlds needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.” – Jana Stanfield
This is where the story begins to change, and this is the reason we wanted to share this story with you. Chickens raised for meat are called “Broiler Chickens.” They are a Cornish Cross breed selectively bred for accelerated growth and grotesque muscle development. According to Penn State University, broiler chicks reach 5 pounds in 5 weeks before slaughter. Chickens bred for meat are arguably the most genetically manipulated of all animals, forced to grow 65 times faster than their bodies normally would, and the industry continually seeks to increase their growth rate.
In the time we’ve cared for these chicks, they’ve grown 16-fold. This is even with the specially formulated low protein feed that our local feed mill created just for us. Some of them have died from heart failure at just 2 months of life. Their baby hearts simply couldn’t keep up with their adult-sized bodies. The industry that breeds 9 billion of them every year doesn’t seem to care because they assume that, by 2-3 months these birds will have been long since slaughtered anyway.
Around the age of 5 months many chicks in our care began to develop terrible sores on the pads of their feet known as Bumblefoot. The professional team of avian specialists at the Bird and Exotic Pet Wellness Center in Toledo gave us phone consultations for specific care instructions and evaluated several of the chicks in person. In their own words, “Being bred for meat is basically a death sentence. It’s almost inevitable that they will suffer from enlarged organs, heart disease and bumblefoot due to their extreme weight.” Regardless, our staff and volunteers spent hours every day treating and bandaging each foot with a specialized pad to help alleviate some of the pressure from their enlarged bodies. Some recovered, some did not.
Being treated for bumblefoot
Now that many have reached sexual maturity, in-fighting has become a problem. The larger ones pick on the smaller ones and the smaller ones end up in the infirmary. We’ve built four new enclosures by dividing their yard spaces and have chickens in the strangest places, such as in the kitchen or in a stall with our senior pot belly pig, Heinrich. (He doesn’t seem to mind as long as they keep the crowing down during his 6 hour nap times.) Every day it seems we’re balancing personalities like a high school drama club.
Immobility and leg failure seem to plague the poor babies the most. Their bodies grow so large that walking even a few feet can become a struggle. Many have had their legs collapse beneath their weight altogether and we find them looking up at us helplessly from an immobile position. It’s as if they feel trapped, prisoners in their own bodies. The harsh reality is that if they’ve reached this stage, their success rate is very low, and quality of life must be evaluated. We’ve since partnered with The Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) to end the suffering of some by humane euthanasia. Either Shara Jones (Animal Care Manager) or I must make that heartbreaking decision.
We have done everything possible to give these chicks healthy and happy lives, but we cannot undo their genetics. Please know that the work we do is often shadowed in sadness. In the case of these chicks, we knew their lives would be cut short. We knew it would be so very difficult to watch them grow beyond their capacity, but we’re here to help animals- no matter the cost. As Founder Dorothy Davies said recently, “We willingly break our hearts by doing what we can for these innocents. Life would be easier if we gave up.”
All grown up
That is why it is imperative that our supporters remember the mission of our work and the reason SASHA Farm originated. We are not a petting zoo and our residents are not here for our enjoyment. SASHA Farm is a rescue and vegan sanctuary that stands in defiance against the abuse and exploitation of animals born into the food industry. We see individuals with personality and inherent value where others might see commodities. Please, if you are not vegan already, consider a vegan lifestyle.
For the animals, Brece Clark Animal Care Team, SASHA Farm