Last summer, the dog ate two of our chickens (and then the dog found a new home).  We didn’t replace them because we weren’t sure if we were coming or going.  So now we’re farm sitting in Inverhuron, and we moved our birds into the lovely chicken coop here (everything is lovely, I love every building on this property).  The resident hens are long past the point of laying, one buff orphington is in her teens.  We needed more eggs, therefore, it was time to get more chickens.

I had placed an ad online, heard back from a farmer with hens who were to be a year old in June, asking a good price, within reasonable driving distance.  Off we went.  Turns out his birds are “cage birds” (his words).

We enter his barn (dark and smelly, two things barns don’t need to be, the contents of which I will not elaborate on, or I’ll be typing forty pages instead of four) and he’s got hens there for me, crammed into cages, hanging above a cattle pen.

Their toes are hanging through the wire, they can hardly move in their cages, and despite having had the ends of their beaks trimmed off, they have had nothing to do but peck each other.  And have been doing so.

I didn’t set out thinking I was on a rescue mission, I set out thinking “EGGS!  YUMMY!”  I would never have bought hens in such bad condition at an auction, but I couldn’t leave without them.  He assured me they were not even a year yet, that they were laying well, and tells me that they would have been getting put in the stew pot soon because they were starving, eating each other, suicidal it was time for the next cycle of birds.

So I paid and thanked the farmer (a man hardly older than myself), and took the hennies home.

There is no reason for this.

Just because chickens can survive horrific conditions and still produce an egg, doesn’t mean they should.  Just because that was the way it was done before, does not mean it’s the way it needs to be done TODAY.  That latter part is what I wrote to the farmer, in a very polite, but very clear email.

Because it’s just the herd, following nose to tail, not paying attention to what is really going on, that creates this situation.  Because stepping back even an inch, from the sphincter ahead of you, would reveal that the situation is not reasonable.  Heck, it’s not even CHEAPER.  I laid out the case for giving the hens more floor space, feeding them kitchen scraps and allowing them to be live in composters, because guess what?  They’ll lay eggs productively for more than one measly year, because they won’t be starving and eating each other.  Better for the chicken, better for the consumer, better for the pocketbook.

It’s not rocket science.

The chickens, once let out of the crate, immediately began scratching, pecking, and wobbling around the coop.  It was like they had sea legs.  Took them two days to figure out how to navigate the hatch and ramp to go outside (where the waterer is) and most of them understand that the nest box is the best place to lay an egg.  Their shells are still quite thin, I would imagine this is because they were nutritionally deficient (starving).  They have free access to food, and heaps of scraps, as I am egg sharing these hens with another family, who arrive laden with nibbles for them on a regular basis.

Their eggs taste like thanksgiving.

It’s a great thing to receive.


  1. Shannon · February 28, 2012

    Thank you for giving these hens a better life.

  2. Julie · February 28, 2012

    Blergh. What can you say other than people are assholes? I miss my chickens more than I think is reasonable so hearing this makes me extra sick. I wouldn’t have left them either. But now are you going to need to make a yearly rescue? And at what point, if any, does it become animal cruelty and worth mentioning? I just don’t get why people take on animals they don’t want to properly care for.

  3. Holly · February 28, 2012

    You rock. There’s no excuse for these types of conditions.

  4. Steph · February 28, 2012

    YAY for animal rescue!
    It’s shameful that these poor animals live in such conditions.
    This is why my diet is now mostly vegetarian. Although, make no mistake that I am always bragging about how awesome I think it is that you take such good care of your animals before you eat them :)
    -True story. Wish I could say the same!

  5. Lee · February 28, 2012

    Thank you for buying these hens, I’m sure they’ll be a great addition to your household. When I was 14, my family adopted some ex-battery hens that were in much worse condition than yours. We were given them because they were going to be put down as they were no longer “productive”. They were 2 or 3 years old, had never seen the sunlight or stepped on the ground. It took a week before they were brave enough to leave the dark shed but they started to thrive. Their feathers grew back, they learnt how to peck and scratch for food on the ground, they were SO friendly and what do you know? With all the care and attention we gave them, pretty soon they were laying eggs again. And even if they didn’t, we would have kept them anyway because the alternative seemed too cruel after what they’d been through. They ended up living for another 6-8 years after that too. So enjoy your new friends!

  6. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    Lee, ours were in similar conditions, they had no light, and had never been on anything but wire. Brutal. These hens are only 8 months old, and already so battered they were about to go in the stew pot. As I mentioned above, I don’t understand how people think this is a system that is WORKING for them, even from a financial standpoint alone. Does not compute.

    Julie, animal cruelty it is. But also common and standard practice. And there’s no animal control here. I mulled over whether or not I would write to the farmer, and I did choose to do so, and politely. Of course, I did not get a response back from him, but I hope he considers my suggestion. With all those acres, surely he has enough room for a chicken coop.

    Steph, thank you! If we weren’t raising our own meat, we would hardly eat it.

    Shannon & Holly, cheers.

  7. Martina · February 28, 2012

    I’m so sad looking @ those chickens. What a fucker. How can one look @ a animal in that condition and not KNOW in your heart that it is wrong? Shame on him. So glad you took them anyways. They will reward you many times over for this.

  8. Julia · February 28, 2012

    Those hens are the lucky ones. Thank you. Gosh, that fucking sucks.

  9. Sam · February 28, 2012

    It’s so appalling that those are common conditions.

  10. Sweet Bird · February 28, 2012

    You continue to inspire me. As always.

  11. Nicole · February 28, 2012

    Thank you for rescuing those poor birds. I just can’t even imagine. I mean, if the plan is to eventually kill and eat those birds, I would think that one could at the very least try to make their lives decent for the short amount of time they have. It’s just compassionate. Also, as you say, it just makes better financial sense.

  12. Amandette · February 28, 2012

    It is a pity people/farmers *still* think animals have to be caged in this way. Good on ya for liberating these birds!

  13. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    Nicole, we will eat them when they are no longer productive. But they will have a wonderful life before we do.

    Also, they will eat things that WE would eat. Kitchen scraps make such good chicken food, we feed them everything except chicken, tea & coffee. The nutritional value in eggs is directly correlated to what the chicken itself eats… why one would chose to NOT get the most bang for their “buck” is beyond me.

  14. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    And “productive” for us does not mean less than an egg a day, they will certainly have plenty of years left. They are so young. It’s unreal they are in such bad shape, having only spend such a limited time on earth.

  15. Pete (Dad) · February 28, 2012

    Thank you Ash, for caring enough to make changes, not just for the chickens.

  16. Jamie · February 28, 2012

    Those chickens are amazing lucky to have had you happen into their lives. They will be happier and healthier for it too!

  17. Bethany Susan · February 28, 2012

    Chickens have long been my favorite animals. Thank you for saving them. This broke my heart.

  18. Erin · February 28, 2012

    Thank you for rescuing them; I teared up when I saw the picture. I have two girls that I have in a smallish coop (they have room to wander around and scratch) and I let them out as soon as I arrive home each day so they can forage in the yard. I’ve never seen chickens looking as sad as the ones you rescued and I’m so glad they’ve found a good home.

  19. Mom · February 28, 2012

    So proud you are my daughter. Thank you for the rescue mission.

  20. Anne · February 28, 2012

    If they were improperly caged I think there may be a case against them if notified by the animal humane.

  21. Exploriment · February 28, 2012

    Y’all are good souls for giving these animals a shot at something other than misery and pain.

  22. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    Anne, unfortunately caging birds in that manner is standard practice. It’s how most eggs get to the grocery store too. There is also no humane society here, even if it was “improper” and not average.

  23. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    And just to add – I have called the Owen Sound SPCA on a small petting zoo before. This wasn’t near OS though. And they didn’t do anything. Sadly.

    And while we do have animal control, unfortunately, this doesn’t ruffle any feathers……. except my own.

  24. Anne · February 28, 2012

    hmmm cause I have seen tags at the Keady market saying that some cages are not legal.

  25. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    Some cages aren’t allowed for transport specifically, some cages aren’t allowed to be used for sale. Most of those aren’t actually illegal. Improper caging during transport to slaughter means that the processor will likely turn away the shipment. Doubtful charges are laid, it’s just that they can’t accept them. As far as Keady auction standards (every time I go there I want to call the SPCA twelve times over), there may be the occasion where a call is made, which a local vet investigates, but I can’t imagine how severe it would have to be, given what they usually let pass.

    But these cages are in any egg barn, they are unquestionably standard.

  26. David · February 28, 2012

    We had the good fortune to visit a friend when she was living in Ireland about 8 years ago. Her living arrangements were such that she sub-let a room in a countryside cottage (farm area in the Burren) that had a hen in the front yard – who roamed about the front where she pleased. Most wonderful eggs every couple of days with fresh brown bread; incomparable flavor when you give the birds freedom to be outdoors.

  27. rebecca · February 28, 2012

    wow, that is just terrible. what kind of “farmer” does that?
    our backyard hens laid for over 3 yrs very productively till they got killed by racoons one night.

  28. Priscilla · February 28, 2012

    Aw, thank you for saving them. I am sure they wil have a good long run with you.

    And I HAVE been wondering about the rest of your cast of non-human characters: your dogs and cats and goldfish and etc. Which dog ate the chickens?

  29. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    David – yes, birds allowed to eat grass and bugs produce the most fantastic eggs.

    Rebecca – I hazard to say “most”.

    Priscillia – The french bulldog, La Cochonne attacked the chickens and then started chasing Amish buggies and actually getting under them. That was not acceptable. She also wouldn’t stay off the pastured poultry pens, and was stressing them out. We raise chickens, not pet puppies, so that was that.

    Puppers (tiny 4lb poodle/hamster) has been beaten up by the chickens, but never injured one, and we are sharing custody of him with my mother at present. We are down to only one cat, NoNo Goo Eyes, white fluffy persian with two eyes (there was one who only had one eye). One goldfish is still alive, a chocolate oranda. Longest living fish we’ve had yet, despite all odds.

    I think that covers all “pets”! :)

  30. Priscilla · February 28, 2012

    Hee thanks for the update! I’m shocked at La Cochonne! I do find the idea of Puppers being chased by a chicken to be pretty funny. I’ve seen my cats and dogs chased by squirrels :)

  31. Kate · February 28, 2012

    I’m curious to know if the seller has responded to or even acknowledged your letter. I’m glad you have given them a new life.

  32. Brittany · February 28, 2012

    Hazzah for chicken rescue! My Mom and I are driving to Vacaville California today to pick up a few chickens. A man bought a big piece of property up there and discovered a “mismanaged” chicken house there. Mismanaged as in the previous owner moved and left the chickens there probably to die. Although we wish we could take 20 or 200 chickens, we can only take 2 because we only have proper space to add 2 new chickens into our group of chicken gals. About five years ago we took in a couple chickens from an egg company who didn’t want to get with the new California state law on farm animal management that requires more space for all farm animals. The chickens we got were from the middle of a 10 chicken-stack of cages who were brown when we first saw them but after scrubbing their fellow chicken prisoner’s poop off of them they were white! We named them Betty and Veronica and loved walking around our property and we noticed they would admire their legs. Take a few steps and then look at one leg, then the other. They probably did this because they never saw their legs before! Their beaks were also cut so we made up in their chicken mythology that they wanted to look like Janis Dickenson and got their lips done (because the way their beaks healed they totally looked like fake human lips and it pains us that anymore would cut chicken beaks). Those chicken girls lived only a few years and then died but they lived in a chicken haven where they could come into the house and see what was for dinner or go sit on the couch and hunker down and watch TV with us.

  33. Cosleeper · February 28, 2012

    Wow,this is really interesting,I do find the idea of Puppers being chased by a chicken to be pretty funnyChickens are good animals. we should pay more attention to these animals.

  34. Brittany · February 28, 2012

    Update…our chickens came from the biggest chicken rescue in California history. They are now happy and safe in their new large chicken house until the other chicken girls get use to them and they become one of the group. And if the girls aren’t accepted then they get their own chicken house to themselves.

  35. Twwly · February 28, 2012

    Kate – no, he has not. I’m not surprised.

    Brittany – so glad for you! It may take time, you just have to let them sort it out. Ours were beaten up solid for about two weeks and now have settled in.

  36. Katie · February 28, 2012

    I feel like I’m the resident rescuer for our local feed store. I believe they treat their animals horribly, and I’ve tried to report them for it (to no avail). So far I’ve rescued 4 chickens, 2 doves, and 2 goslings from them, all of which truly needed rescuing. And I live in downtown Orlando for chrissakes, not on a farm! But nothing compares to taking an animal from a poor environment where it was merely “surviving”, giving it basic necessities, and watching it learn how to actually be an animal. My definition of animal cruelty is anything that deprives an animal of being able to fulfill its very basic natural instincts, like scratching and roosting and taking dust baths. I will just never understand how that kind of cruelty is so widespread and accepted..

  37. emoAmerica · February 28, 2012


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