3,000 Miles to Refuge

By Susie

At almost 6:00 a.m. on September 5, I stood on the tarmac of Elmira Corning Regional Airport with 17 Farm Sanctuary staff members and volunteers waiting for a cargo plane to land. 1,150 rescued hens who had just traveled nearly 3,000 miles were inside. As soon as the plane safely landed, we sprang into action.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_2774_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurWe had been preparing for this moment since mid-August, when Animal Place, a rescue organization in Grass Valley, California, contacted us. They were set to save 3,000 hens scheduled to be gassed to death at an egg factory. All chickens used in industrial egg production are gassed or slaughtered once their productivity declines, typically at about two years old. These particular birds had been kept in battery cages, the most common egg production method in the United States and the system for confining more than 250 million hens each year. Their cages were housed in giant sheds and stacked several rows high. Inside, the hens were crowded together so tightly that they couldn’t even stretch a wing. They were forced to stand and lie on wire floors without relief. Feces from the hens above fell upon them constantly. The air they breathed was thick with dust and ammonia. Every day was a torment. Now, though, relief was finally in sight for these few hens.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_0420_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurAn anonymous donor, who paid for the birds to be flown from the west coast to the east coast, made this transport possible. Chickens who have been used for egg production are very fragile, so we were anxious about them making such a long trip. Considering the loading of the birds into crates, the trip to the airport from their original location, the flight time, and then the unloading and driving to our Watkins Glen Sanctuary, the birds spent well over 16 hours in transit. They were exhausted and in need of fresh food and water. Because they traveled in a cargo plane, the hens could not be viewed during the flight, and we were concerned as we waited to see them. As soon as we could reach them, we were delighted to learn that all had survived the trip, and we carefully removed each crate from the plane and loaded the hens into trailers and our transport van.

To Sanctuary
We rushed the birds to our New York Shelter, where we had converted a building into a barn for the main flock and made space in our Rescue and Rehabilitation Barn for any hens who needed special care. We had lots of fresh, cold water and plenty of food waiting for the hens, and many drank and ate as soon as we released them into the barns. Others, who were weak from the transport and clearly more dehydrated, were given fluids to help them recover from the flight. As the hens settled in, we got to work checking each individual bird to identify who would require special care.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_3267_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurThe evidence of the hens’ ordeal in industrial production was everywhere: lice infestations, respiratory ailments, prolapses from laying so many large eggs, impacted oviducts, peritoneal fluids, pus filled cysts, bumble foot infections, and mangled toes, which probably occurred when their extremely long nails became caught in the cage wire. It is so painful to think of these chickens, not only miserably crowded and frustrated, but also suffering for weeks or months with these painful, untreated ailments as parasites crawled all over their bodies. Sadly, these health problems are common in chickens at industrial egg farms, where individual attention is unheard of. One-hundred-and-fifty birds were identified with health issues requiring special treatment that would prohibit them from traveling to other sanctuaries right away.

On the road again
We spent a very long first day performing examinations, treating injuries, dusting for lice, and trimming extremely overgrown nails. At 4:30 the next morning, a team from Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ohio arrived to pick up 240 hens who were healthy enough for travel. The day before, we had marked the birds to identify them easily in the sea of white feathers so they could be loaded into travel crates with minimal stress. Next, a team from Michigan sanctuary SASHA Farm came to pick up 100 of the girls, who were also marked to ensure the correct birds went to the correct shelters. Once these transports were off, the health checks, medical treatments, and trimmings continued for the remaining birds.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_hen_transport_FS_Sept2013-1044_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurOn day 3, Mike Stura (who rescued our friend Michael) arrived to pick up 400 hens who were headed to upstate New York’s Catskill Animal Sanctuary and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Then, it was time for more examinations and health care. By this time, we caretakers were stiff, sore, and exhausted, but, I can tell you: there is nothing more rewarding to us than seeing how happy these hens are to be safe and comfortable at last.

We worked to prepare more hens to make the trip to new homes at the Humane Society of Greater Rochester’s Lollypop Farm, Virginia sanctuary United Poultry Concerns, Vermont sanctuary VINE, and Coming Home Sanctuary of Ithaca, New York, as well as to adoptive homes in several states. About 200 hens who need additional vet care and treatment will remain here with us.

Throughout all of the transport and health care and through every loading and unloading involved in this massive rescue, Farm Sanctuary staff members and volunteers have worked with amazing diligence, efficiency, and care. In addition to those who worked directly with the chickens, our remaining staff members continued the work of caring for more than 500 other individual animals living at our shelter. They kept normal operations running smoothly, providing the same level of expert care they always do. I am so thankful for our wonderful team. I am also grateful for the award-winning photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur who was with us every step of the rescue to capture the hens’ amazing journey.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_hen_transport_FS_Sept2013-0854_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurJust this week, the state vet came out to perform blood tests on those birds traveling to Virginia. Our health-care team drew blood on 50 of the hens who were banded with official state leg bands for legal entry into that state. These birds will be going to United Poultry Concerns, before the end of September, we hope. Twenty more hens were re-tested as well and will be heading to VINE Sanctuary in Vermont today.

A hopeful future
We continue to pay close attention to the hens here as they are rehabilitated. It is incredible to see their personalities emerge now that they feel safe and well enough to relax. I’m getting to know more and more of these wonderful characters as I work with them every day. Each of these hens is a unique individual. Each one has survived so much and still has so much living left to do. It’s almost inconceivable that any one of their lives could be thoughtlessly extinguished.

Yet millions of chickens were killed the very day that these girls made it to sanctuary, and millions more continue to be added to a system filled with suffering. For every bird who was saved as part of this rescue, another is born to take her place in production. Our job now is to ensure that people learn about how wonderful each individual bird is so that they are inspired to change their eating habits. And when that happens, hens who lay eggs will truly be free.

Our rescued hens are ambassadors now, and I have so much hope for the lives they will live and the people they will inspire here at Farm Sanctuary and at all the other sanctuaries, shelters, and homes that have welcomed them.



41 thoughts on “3,000 Miles to Refuge

  1. Beautiful, Susie! And wonderful photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur, too. Can’t wait to see these girls again when they’ve recovered from their ordeal and relax into the good life!

    • Thank God for people like you!!! God will bless you!!! I can not say enough my appreciation for all your hard work. All animals are precious, smart and have unconditional love. Hens also are living beings—–I look up to all of you!!!

    • If you are going to eat chicken or eggs or any other animal or animal product, buy locally from a farm where animals are treated humanely and are allowed to “pasture” and lead a “normal” life. If you go to localharvest.org you can find farms in your
      zip code area. Ideally, we would all become vegan, but short of that, buy locally,
      buy humanely and support local agriculture.

    • Don’t. It’s that easy. There is no reason to eat chickens.
      Don’t you see the connection?
      There is no difference between the chicken on your plate and the ones that were saved here.

    • Thank God for Farm Sanctuary! You kind acts rekindle my hope
      day by day that we all can work toward giving the animals a better life. I am going to try Morningstar non meat products, because although I don’t eat meat, I do eat chicken and fish. Knowing that they all have individual personalities really motivates me to change.

  2. I am so PROUD of the company that let those wonderful creatures live the rest of their lives in( Heaven) freedom, To walk around and go bugging all the things chickens do. Who ever that company is awesome. Thank you very much! I love you all!!!!!

  3. This brings tear of joys to my eyes, knowing these chickens will now live the life they deserve. I am owned by several chickens, and they offer endless love, joy and peace in my life. God bless you all for all your efforts.

  4. Beautiful and fascinating article, but difficult to read with tears in the eyes. Thank you for saving these lovely ladies. I went right back to your site to donate.

  5. While I am happy for these hens it seems to me that overall this whole endeavor makes no sense whatsoever. Consider, just for one thing, the carbon footprint.

    Hope in the future you’ll be able to spend time, energy, and money on a more reasonable rescue.

  6. You are all angels in disguise! These chickens will have a chance to know what freedom feels because of your efforts and the generous help from that person who helped pay for this rescue. Because of you and what you do and what you stand for, I am proud to say that I am vegetarian officially for over one month. Thank you for educating me on the horrors that these poor animals go through before landing on someone’s plate. Vegetarian for life is what I chose!

  7. Thank GOD for you and Farm Sanctuary staff members / volunteers who care enough for these poor animals. I will continue to donate to Farm Sanctuary for as long as I live! GOD be with you all!

  8. I am proud to support Farm Sanctuary. Your work in educating the masses that animals are someONE not someTHING is so important. GO VEGAN!!!!!!

  9. Thank you and God bless to you all that had a hand in rescuing these beautiful Hens. I cry on the inside at the grocery store when I see a carton of FF eggs in someone basket. I have thought about carrying a photo of laying Hens in battery cages inside the factory farms facility to show people where the eggs in their carton came from. Yes I eat eggs once in a while butn I do personally know the Hens that laid those eggs. They are healthly, properly & well fed, well housed inside and out, individual laying boxes with straw, fun to watch frolic and enteract with each other in their outdoor enclosure and come running if you have a treat for them. They die of old age natually and never are eaten. Other that the occasional egg I do not eat meat or dairy and try to buy products with no animal testing etc. It is a wonderful discovery journey eating and living kind not cruel.

  10. Thank you from a volunteer for Animal Place in California. Nice write up and pictures and I love that the East Coast sanctuaries came together to help us rescue these lovely girls.

  11. God Bless you all, I have chickens and they give me such joy to watch them live freely to do what chickens are supposed to do. I enjoy their fresh eggs and let them live the best life possible. I am so glad to hear these chickens got rescued so they can live the life they were meant to live. Thank you to all involved to make this rescue possible! We need to educate more people on how these factory farm chickens live. It’s so sad…….

  12. THANK YOU AND BLESS YOU FOR ALL THAT YOU DO! :) I met some beautiful chickens at the Orland CA Sanctuary and they are the sweetest creatures! These guys truly look so happy and free as they were always meant to be. I can’t thank you enough!

  13. We saved 6 of these chickens and they have learned to trust us. They each are unique and happy individuals. Much love to your organization and thank you.

  14. Such Great news! I Love it! It just makes me smile inside :-) God Bless the chickens, and the all the people who helped!!!!

  15. Pingback: 250! White Leghorn Hens | Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary | Animal Rescue | Cruelty | Animal Abuse

  16. I have no other words but to say but thank you for loving so much God’s creation, you guys have no idea how happy it makes me feel to know that there is people the cares so much for this beautiful and loving animals.

  17. Thank you so much. Since I’ve learned of Farm Sanctuary, my life has changed immeasurably. There is a glimmer of hope. I pray every day for each suffering individual.

  18. What a remarkable story! All animals should be treated with dignity just as humans would like to be treated in their declining years.

  19. What an uplifting story – makes me jump for joy. Kudos and blessings to all the wonderful staff and volunteers at Farm Sanctuary and the other rescue organizations for saving these hens and giving them the life they have long deserved. I am so proud of you all! Thank you, thank you.
    Eat like you give a damn – GO VEGAN!

  20. You are doing Gods’ work, caring for the helpless, being good stewards.
    Thank you and God bless you for your kindness!

  21. Thank you for doing such wonderful work!
    I would just like to know where the other 1850 girls went to, as it was stated there were 3000 to be rescued?

    • Good question! They remained in California finding homes there at sanctuaries and adoptive home. Thanks!

  22. Thank you for giving us the details of this amazing rescue. Would love to thank the anonymous donor; helps to restore faith in humanity!

  23. I went to an anti fur animal rights conference back in early June in Old town Alexandria. I met Karen Davis in person and found her a wonderful person. I saw the Witness and Peaceable Kingdom which I bought both for $25. The conference was free with registration. It was the best conference because it was simple and only one room.

    Throughout my childhood and into my adulthood I found chicken and turkey meat tasting worse and worse. Now I know why. Factory Farming is the Culprit.

  24. This must have been such a Herculean feat from start to finish by a legion of earth angels every step of the way… with resounding success! My most sincere congratulations and heartfelt gratitude to ALL!!!!! The wonderful photos posted capture the remarkable journey & I wonder if anyone thought to take any videos of these rescued girls, as they took their first step into “Heaven on Earth”… it would be wonderful to see and share with others!!

  25. Good job!, We are also a domestic rescue just for birds. Small but efficient, we work with local animal control, city and county parks and the public to rehome abandon, abused and injured birds. asaputah.org