Edwina, Gurty and Woody.
These three names popped into my head the other day, as I absentmindedly clucked at some of the newest additions to our motley family, four rescue free range hens.
While I watched as my mother exchanged cooing noises with them and pretended to admonish them for taking ‘dust baths’ in the mud, my thoughts slowly drifted towards that of the first three girls that ever came into our care.
The ones that in the winter of 2014, seemed to catapult their way into the heart of my family, in a way that didn’t seem possible of any chicken. They created a wave of change that continues to ripple almost three years later. In those two and a half years, they have started conversations, arguments, caused tears of laughter, of heartbreak, raised questions and shattered old perceptions.
Those three chickens also managed to propel me towards beginning a path that in the past, I had not been prepared in committing to take. They showed me the face of a reality I had refused to see.
It was a bitter day in November when they arrived. Littlehill Animal Rescue (see link below for further information on their incredible work) had effectively mobilised the country in finding homes for approximately 7000 hens, all hailing from a solitary factory farm. These hens, pushed beyond the limits of their biology, were rendered unusable following approximately a year of ‘service’, and were now destined for slaughter.
We signed up to collect three. I remember the feeling of hurriedly pushing through the front door of our home, having been at lectures all day, my cheeks flushed with a mixture of cold and excitement. I was greeted by the sounds of curious squawks from behind the closed door of our study.
Those little soft noises were accompanied and contrasted slightly by a more somber silence hanging in the air. Too eager in my anticipation to note the silence in full, I moved quickly, only stopping in pace to gently place my hand on the handle, to delicately open the door, conscious of who might be standing in close proximity behind it. Slowly turning the handle and pushing forward, I quickly peeked my head around the corner, to fully take in the sight of our three little chickens. What I saw stilled my heart. Without saying a word I stepped inside the room and took stock of the sight before me.
You hear about the horrendous things that happen to chickens in battery farms. You see the photos, and hear the stories. But even with this prior knowledge, I was not prepared for the physical reality of what appeared behind that door.
Three different chickens, in varying degrees of baldness and malformation, were placed in various corners of the room. One chicken, later that evening to be christened Edwina, was missing almost all the feathers on her wings, with bald patches on her head and back. Gurty lay in a box placed under the desk. As I entered the room, she slowly got up, and moved away, attempting to shield herself. Quivering, legs stiff, she turned and faced away from me, only to lay an egg that had no shell. I noticed immediately that her behind was completely exposed and hued with an angry red. She slowly made her way back to the box and nestled inside, head hanging low. Meanwhile Woody, the one in best condition, walked around making more animated chirpy noises, pecking everything in sight, including my shoe laces. After cooing absently at each chicken, I glanced up and caught the eye of my mum and then my brother. It was then, the real emotion of the scene before me hit.
I had known that these chickens were rescues. I knew that they wouldn’t be in similar condition to the chickens we had outside, glossy, strong, healthy. I had been recently educated on the horrendous conditions these chickens had lived through and been subjected to, had seen the photos of their sisters in cages, yet to be released.
But for it suddenly not to be a matter of photos, videos and a topic of debate in casual conversations, for it to become three very real living, breathing creatures, that effective immediately, we were now responsible for, that were for us to now love and care for, having been effectively tortured in reaching such a point of brokenness, ignited an anger and unspeakable sadness. To have three vulnerable and fragile animals look at us with eyes that were pained and experienced in suffering, for them to have lived an alien experience in comparison to what we were knowledgeably familiar with and what was natural for them, to now exist in the context of our home, was overwhelming.
That night, when the light was turned off, was the first time they had ever been in the dark. These chickens were a year old, and as chickens only lay during during daylight hours, and under factory farm circumstances are treated as a commodity, it commercially made sense to keep them constantly in light.
Over the next few days, watching them stretch their wings, move their legs, unfurl their feet that had held on to a wire cage for the last year, was awe inspiring. As was their journey to recovery that followed.
It’s hard to describe to people why ‘the girls’ as they were commonly referred to in their wandering threesome, are so important, or why they have made such an impact.
I mean they’re just chickens right?
Perhaps if given the same wonderful opportunity to get to know them like we did, maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult. To have seen them blossom, to fight for life having known adversity for their entire existence, to see them respond to instincts that had been smothered, to recognise them as individuals.
They gave us so much, and to give them even a moment to walk in the sunlight was worth the heartbreak of knowing them.
I watch as she runs up to peck my mothers undone lace and then eagerly slip in behind as she goes indoors and shuts the door. As I walk in after them both, Woody clip clopping with her tiny feet up to the fridge waiting for a treat, I can only laugh at the happy madness of it all.
And then take a moment to reflect on Gurty and Edwina, two of the first brave girls to grace our home, who fought so hard for life, who had their moments in the sunshine and then passed away a few months later.
Perhaps next time you go to pick up eggs or a chicken fillet, you’ll take a moment to reflect.
If everyone does a little bit more, the world could be such a different place.
It’s not worth their lifetime of suffering to satisfy your moment of hunger.
*Featured picture above is a picture of Woody*
Littlehill Animal Rescue: http://littlehillanimalrescue.ie/
Egg substitutes: http://www.egglesscooking.com/egg-substitutes/