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Why Chickens Need Us Too

We take care of nearly 400 animals here at Woodstock Sanctuary at any point in time and most of them are birds. That means that while the majority of our caregiving time and our vet bills are for birds, we don’t update on every major medical update. You’d all be getting constant updates if that was the case – and we do mean every day, many times a day!

But we wanted to share this story as it illustrates the lengths our team goes to take care of our bird friends. We also think it’s ethically vital to consider each of them as much as an individual cow or pig and to make the same medical decisions.

Hierarchies of care don’t belong at a sanctuary.

This is Shelly. She was rescued by a former intern of ours (named Shelly) and arrived here on August 5th, 2019. She had been at a live kill market in Brooklyn and was near death by the time she came to us. Shelly was a tiny young hen at the time with a horrific case of fly strike – she was being eaten by maggots that had hatched inside her flesh. This is sadly very common with animals on farms and at markets and it’s incredibly painful and deadly. She was also limping with an injury probably sustained from being transported to the market.

After intensive care, she recovered and lived a year happily and healthfully with her new flock. But in August of 2020, a year after her rescue, her left eye swelled. She’s a Cornish-cross hen, the type of bird bred for meat production, and they tend to be very sensitive to infections and disease because of this. So we immediately took her to the vet for treatment. Then another vet in September. In October she had her first surgery to try and treat the infection which worked for a few weeks but her eye swelled up again. So she had another surgery in November which also seemed to work but the swelling and infection returned.

We keep asking ourselves “what’s best for Shelly?” And as she’s a very happy young hen who loves being outside and with her flock, we know that doing our best to help her is the right thing to do. We have chickens of her breed who live to be upwards of five years old – and even up to eight! Shelly deserves the best chance to live her unique, special life.

So we wanted to try to take her to other specialists at Cornell – she went there on December 30th where they did a treatment with no surgery; and then we returned on January 13th for surgery. Every trip to the hospital is an eight hour round trip. We left her overnight and drove back the next day to pick her up.

She has a follow up in two weeks but we didn’t want to leave her there where she would be confused and scared. She’s happiest at the Sanctuary so we will take her back, the full drive back to the hospital, next week for a follow up.

So far she’s doing really well so we hope that she’s out of the woods. If not, we are going to have to think about her comfort and wellbeing and what’s next.

Cornish Cross chickens are bred to die. They are killed at around 45 days old – when they are just babies. They aren’t given medical care and they never meet their mothers.

There is a fallacy even among some rescuers that Cornish Cross chickens can’t live healthy happy lives. We and other sanctuaries have shown time and again that they can – it just takes a lot of work and care. And sometimes, as with our sweet little Shelly, it takes months of vet visits, driving, and making hard decisions.

We don’t know how this one is going to turn out yet. But if we lose her, it’ll be no less sad than losing a goat or a cow. And if she lives for several more years and has a good life, it’ll be no less of a triumph. Perhaps even more so because she was bred to die and instead she’s been beloved.

To give to Shelly’s hospital bills, click here.