I have been lucky enough to spend the last month living and working on a vegan farm in Dayboro, Australia. What’s a vegan farm I hear you ask, well let me tell you. Farm Animal Rescue is a farm that is run by vegans (vegans running a farm = vegan farm…easy!) and has saved the lives of over 60+ animals who had once been victims of the meat and dairy industry. These animals had been destined for awful lives and even worse deaths but now they get to live in harmony at the farm. Sounds great doesn’t it!
As my time on the farm is coming to an end I thought it would be nice to pay homage to the amazing animals that I’ve spent my time with over the last month and tell you how their lives were destined for a very different path.
I’ve been vegetarian for 20+ years but since becoming vegan 3 years ago I’ve become more passionate about educating people about the lives that animals in the meat and dairy industry live. I also would like to say that I don’t believe that the average person intentionally contributes towards animal cruelty, the majority of us love animals and are appalled by animal abuse, the average person is just not informed as to what is actually happening and the process that takes place to get their food onto their plate. I was vegetarian for over 20 years and it wasn’t until I started researching into these subjects that I found out the truth, the truth which I’m sure more people would be keen to hear, so that they can make informed choices regarding the meat, dairy and eggs that they buy.
First off lets start with the chickens. There are currently 18 hens, 4 roosters, 3 baby chicks, (1 duck and 1 guinea-fowl) that live on the farm at the moment. The hens that live on the farm have come from either battery cage facilities or cage free sites.
Battery Cage facilities are huge factories full to the brim with rows and rows of cages, 6 to 10 birds in each cage, the space for each hen is approx the size of an A4 sheet of paper, a chicken will live her entire live in this cage, unable to turn around, unable to see daylight, unable to stretch her wings or legs, unable to dust bath or scratch in the dirt – instead she will spend her whole life, sitting down, producing eggs, day in, day out, until the day that her egg production slows down and she is sent to slaughter. By this point her body will have been pushed to the limits but still she will be seen as worthless and will usually end up as chicken nuggets or go into pet food. She will be 18 months old, a baby.
Next we have the ‘cage free’ sites. Now as a conscious consumer of eggs you would be lead to believe that battery hens suffer a horrible life, where as cage free hens are free to roam, probably live in fields, have a nice life? Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that isn’t true (sorry). I would also like to say at this point that I feel sorry for people who try to do the best for animals when they are considering which eggs to buy etc, the photos on the boxes of hens living in huge fields and having amazing lives leads you to believe that is the life these chickens lead! I mean why wouldn’t you think that?! But as I said, this sadly isn’t the truth. ‘Cage Free’ means just that, the chickens don’t live in cages BUT, and here’s what they don’t tell you, the chickens instead live in huge barns, about 10,000 chickens in one barn! No sunlight, no grass, no field, no lovely farmer who gives them cuddles and tucks them into bed every night. Nope, just a huge barn where chickens trample each other, peck each others eyes out and rip each others feathers out. Some birds will get ill and die, the bodies will stay in the barns for other chickens to peck at and sleep on. It’s appalling. Brad King, who runs Farm Animal Rescue describes the differences between battery caged chickens and cage free chickens as ‘with cage free hens it’s like living your whole life in a prison cell, small, cramped, isolated, with no stimulation from others but cage free hens live a life in the prison yard, fighting to survive everyday, survival of the fittest’
When the chickens are rescued and arrive at the sanctuary they are very confused, they have never seen daylight before, they have never been able to interact with other chickens before, they have never been able to roam free, dust bath and scratch the ground so it all takes a bit of time for them to get used to the routine and fit in. Saying that, after a few weeks they soon learn the routine and they start to have a ‘normal’ life! During my time of the farm we have had 3 new residents arrive and watching them grown in confidence and start to explore their surroundings and interact has been great!
Now let me introduce you to some of the residents on the farm…
These girls are all so inquisitive. If you’re cleaning out the barns, or sweeping up, they come running over to see what you’re doing. They peck little patterns on your trousers or shoes and love to get involved with everything! They have such sweet, funny personalities and are real characters!
As you can see some of these girls still show the signs of their cage free/battery cage days. They are slowly growing back their feathers and getting more and more colour in their cheeks everyday. They also grow in confidence with us and the other hens too.
This is the wonderful Arthur, just look at him! Arthur is one of the four roosters that live on the farm. You’d probably think that male chickens have an easier life as they don’t produce eggs but that’s also not true. To be honest male chickens don’t even get to have a life. Male chicks are destroyed when they are 1 day old, generally by being gassed, shredded in a blender (yes, you read that right, a frikkin blender) or just being thrown into a rubbish bin.
Luckily the roosters at the farm were saved from such a fate and now live happily on the farm with their hen girlfriends, they all have various hens that follow them around, cleaning them and keeping them company. These guys are true gentlemen who call their ladies over when they find food for them, letting their hens eat first (how sweet!) and generally looking out for them. There is of course Colin who is a bit frisky and loves the ladies!
Another rooster, Bubble has a small love affair with the only resident duck Squeak! These two are inseparable and spend most of their time together. They also have their own little house together which is adorable! Bubble and Squeak were actually the first residents at Farm Animal Rescue!
I was very lucky that while I was here we have had babies born! One very broody chicken had been secretly sitting on some eggs and would not give up the hope of becoming a mum. We forget that these animals lay all of these eggs and have them taken away from them, they never get to hatch any of them out but this hen was adamant! Chickens are very dedicated mothers, even before the eggs hatch, they will sit on the eggs all day, sometimes they don’t even leave them to eat or drink! This hen was like this and we would have to make sure her food and water were topped up, we would also give her dishes of watermelon multiple times a day, each time taking your life in your hands as she was very protective of her eggs and would peck you! After a few weeks the eggs hatched and the adorable chicks are just over a week old!
It’s so sweet to watch the change in this hen, she was very grumpy and was making her self ill while sitting on her eggs, she was so dedicated to making sure they hatched but as soon as the babies were born she was happy! She had got what she had wanted, to finally bring up her babies! These little chicks are obviously ridiculously adorable, they follow Mum around and even at 2 days old are eating and scratching in the dirt (…what can human babies do at 2 days old!) Hens are also brilliant mothers, she is so protective of them, always calling them back if they stray and shielding them from any harm with her wings, it’s incredible to witness and it’s amazing to see them grown and change everyday. It’s awful to think that if they were born into the industry and turned out to be males, they would be blended alive! Even as I’m writing this I still can’t believe that is someone’s job! Like seriously WTF?!
Watching this mother and her chicks, the bond they have and the instinct that she has to be a mother is incredible. These animals are not stupid or worthless and they deserve to live a happy life just as much as the dogs and cats that we share our homes with.
If you would like to learn a bit more about the egg industry this is a great article that was recently published in The Guardian you can read it here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/30/free-range-eggs-con-ethical or a quick google search will tell you all you need to know.
There are also great documentaries on Netflix which handle this subject including, Cowspiracy, Forks over Knives, Food for Thought and Veducated. They are all worth a watch!
If you would also like to ask any questions or find out more please comment in the comment box below.