Undercover Look Inside a Hatchery Saturday, September 19, 2009 ASPCA Grant Helps WFAS Care for Chickens Can you imagine a country where 30 million male baby chicks are killed every year? Well, how about a single facility? Welcome to Hy-Line International, in Spenser, Iowa, the largest hatchery of the breed of chickens used to lay the nation’s eggs. Chickens are bred for two purposes: eggs and meat. The meat breeds are bred to gain as much weight as possible in the shortest time — in fact, modern “broiler” chickens go from a hatched egg to the slaughter weight of 5.5 pounds in just 48 days. The egg-laying types are bred to be smaller — so they can cram as many as possible into cages — and to produce as many eggs as biologically possible. At the beginning of the whole cycle is the hatchery company — they hatch the chicks for both types of chickens and supply them to other facilities that raise them for slaughter or egg production. Our friends at Mercy For Animals were able to infiltrate Hy-Line and videotape the whole chick processing “assembly line.” The video explains much of this in greater detail and is available below. Please note that while we consider this to be essential viewing, the visuals are quite disturbing and not suitable for young children. Parents and teachers should watch beforehand to determine if their kids should see it. Click above to see the conditions at the kill market. Julia, the Layer Hen We agreed to take all of the chickens at the sanctuary, knowing that we had the space to at least foster them and the experience to treat the sick and injured ones. When the ASPCA officers arrived here after dark in 3 vans after a harrowing day at the market and hours stuck in traffic, mother nature provided the perfect punctuation mark: a heavy, miserable rain. We quickly got the birds into a large, warm coop and pulled the visibly weaker ones into our medical center. The next morning we were able to take a better look. About 120 chickens in all, and a variety of different breeds were identified. Julia, pictured here, is one of a dozen “spent layers” we took in – she was a hen used for eggs, and she’d just spent up to 2 years in a battery cage crammed in with other hens, helping provide the nation with cheap and plentiful eggs… until her egg production dropped and her battered body was sold to the slaughterhouse for marketing as cheap “stew meat.” At the egg factory her beak had been cauterized short to prevent potential pecking and her feathers were beaten off from contact with the wire cages and other hens. Nearly all egg-laying hens nationwide are confined in cages so restrictive that the birds can barely move, let alone engage in many other natural behaviors such as walking, perching and dust bathing. All of this past was evident seeing her take her first steps in the morning dew. For the first few hours her strides were cartoonishly big, as she was quite literally re-learning how to walk for the first time in years. The unfamiliar sensation of grass and dirt underfoot defied any chicken logic she’d experienced in the factory world, almost like walking on the moon. As even die-hard vegetarians who come to the sanctuary learn for the first time–it is the egg-laying hens and the milk-producing cows who bear the brunt of the very worst of factory farming. These females suffer more emotional and physical pain over a much longer period of time than their just-raised-for-meat counterparts–and in the end they too become cheap, processed meat. In the meantime, Julia is enjoying her days scratching for bugs in the grass, stretching her wings and basking in the sun for the first time in her life. She is one of the few lucky ones: each day 24 million chickens are killed in the US alone. Until their feathers grow back she willl spend her nights in a straw-filled spacious pen in our little hospital room with her other liberated sisters. We encourage you to visit her and our other rescued residents as we go forward in our fight towards a more compassionate co-existence with the creatures with whom we share this earth. Read more about the lives of egg-layers and the overall impact of a meat- and dairy-based diet on the animals, the environment and your health. Thanks to an emergency grant from the ASPCA, we’ll be able to build a new coop and fence in a pasture that can accomodate some of these rescued birds, but homes are desperately sought for 80+ roosters. Contact us if you’d like to permanently adopt a rooster buddy or two (or 10!) and give them the haven they need and deserve. With many broken bones and infections to contend with, donations are also very deserately needed to help cover the influx of large vet bills, medications, feed and bedding.