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Why Do Chickens Matter?

Friday, October 20, 2017

If you’ve never spent any time with chickens, it can be hard to imagine that animals so often portrayed as dim witted are actually intelligent, nurturing, social beings. Chickens are capable of feeling, expressing, and understanding a wide range of emotions including fear, anxiety, and empathy. Just like the rest of us, all chickens have their own unique personalities. They can also recognize each other and form close friendships with one another and other types of animals, including humans (Marino 2017).

Chickpea poses for a photo with Intern Leah

As social animals with busy lives, it can be hard for us humans to fully grasp the amount of suffering chickens endure every day in modern agriculture. More chickens are raised and killed for food than all other land animals combined. Each year, close to 9 billion chickens are selectively bred to gain a massive amount of weight in a very short period of time. As a result, they suffer miserably from a myriad of health issues, including lameness and respiratory infection (United Poultry Concerns). At only 42 days old, most of their painful lives end at industrial slaughterhouses while shackled upside down having their throats slit (though some miss the blade and are instead scalded alive in boiling vats of water). Some of these birds, however, suffer a different fate. Each fall, 60,000 of these terrified and helpless baby chickens are crammed into crates and shipped to Brooklyn, New York. There, they wait without food and water for almost an entire week until they are cruelly slaughtered in the middle of the street for a religious ritual called Kaporos. During the ritual, they are roughly grabbed by their wings from the crates and swung overhead before having their throats slit.  

Despite the challenging questions around culture, ethics, and religion this ritual might inspire, I remain deeply troubled on a physical and spiritual level not just at the thought of what happens to these beautiful birds during Kaporos, but at the thought of what happens to chickens every single day. Chickens want to live. Let me repeat what I mentioned earlier: they are intelligent social beings that can feel pain and suffer. Kaporos is only a starting point for a much larger conversation around industrialized agriculture and socially sanctioned animal abuse.  

Bianca recovers from a wing amputation surgery in style. Her wing was severely broken as she was being transported from the factory farm and wasn’t going to recover.

So, what are we to do in the face of a ritual and a modern agricultural system that are so obviously unkind and merciless? If we are people who say we believe in compassion, how can we make peace with our complicity in a system of institutionalized suffering? Are we to ignore the misery and pain of the Kaporos birds and other innocent animals living in terror inside our modern agricultural system? Are we to pretend that the unnecessary violence we support by eating and wearing animal products is someone else’s problem? Or are we to align our daily lifestyle choices with the beliefs and principles we already hold, and become the compassionate people we say we are by moving away from animal products?  

Vivian snuggles up to Caregiver Laura

Remember, these birds, while each having their own unique personalities, are representations of every single other chicken – including the helpless one that might be on your plate. Cultivate compassion and choose life.   

For the animals,

Andie, Humane Educator





Marino, L (2017) Thinking chickens: a review of cognition, emotion, and behavior in the domestic chicken. Animal Cognition 20(2): 127-147  

United Poultry Concerns. Chickens.  


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