Trash to Treasure: The Story of One of the Egg Industry's Tiniest Victims
As I pulled the small, dust-covered door in the shed's floor open, I soon realized that this was no exit, no escape route. It was a cold, pitch-black resting place for hundreds of the egg industry's victims. Trash bins, packed to the brim with insect infested bodies, filled the dugout. The floor was crawling with bugs and thoroughly littered with dirt, feathers, and the decomposing bodies of dead hens. It was a living hell, brought to life courtesy of consumers' demand for the "incredible edible egg." The already unbearable consciousness of this hell was worsened when I noticed movement in one of the trash bins. I easily would have mistaken this hen, determined to survive, for a lifeless corpse had she not lifted her tiny head, stared at me with curiosity, and blinked her eyes from atop the pile.
Weaver Bros. had exploited her since the day she hatched from her shell, and now they were finished with her. Now that her abused, battered, and exhausted body could no longer take the stress of being confined to the filthy wire floor of her cramped battery cage, they had no use for her. They threw her away like nothing more than yesterday's newspaper, a dirty rag, or a piece of garbage. Her comb was pail, her body was becoming increasingly cold, and she had little energy. Only the worker who tossed her there knew how long she had been left in this state, to die alone. She had been shown no mercy or compassion throughout her short life as an egg producing machine. Death would be no different.
But we weren't going to let her languish. We couldn't. Unlike the over 275 million other egg-laying hens who endure the harsh cruelties inherent in "modern" egg agribusiness every year, she would get a second chance. She was going to enjoy fresh air, the feeling of green grass beneath her feet, and the warmth of the sun on her back. We weren't going to allow her to die alone in the cold, dark, filthy, hellhole of this egg farm. We were her only hope, her only chance of escaping and receiving refuge. I knew that if we didn't rescue her, she would soon become yet another casualty of the violent egg industry.
The sounds of the ventilation fans became louder, the temperature colder, and the reality harsher as I cautiously lowered myself down into the dugout. It was becoming increasingly difficult to hold back tears and the emotions that stir them. I maneuvered my way between the other cans in preparation for lifting the hen to safety. Looking into her eyes allowed me only to think of the sheer number of hens suffering disease, broken bones, or exhaustion who met their deaths in the same way she had been left. I felt ashamed of myself for the time I spent not working for the animals; sleeping even seemed like a selfish luxury. But I knew this was no time to get caught in a reflective moment. I slowly reached my hands into the cold, rusted steel bin and began to gently stroke her remaining feathers. As I reached under her body and began to gently lift her from the can, I spoke softly to assure her everything would be okay. Her body was thin and obviously underweight. I held her close to my chest and continued to talk quietly to her. She did not struggle, resist, or protest -- she didn't have the strength. Protected in my arms, we headed home, leaving behind the nightmare of her past existence.
Safe at last in the comforts of her new haven, her dirty, overgrown nails were clipped before she received a warm bath to remove the hardened feces which had become caked on her feathers, under her wings, and on her belly. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she touched the ground and was able to fully stretch her wings and walk freely. She did little walking, though, for she was visibly fragile, weak, and exhausted. Though she had made it out of Weaver Bros. alive, her survival was not assured. I carefully offered her a small amount of water through a narrow syringe. She lifted her weary, shaky head as she drank dropper full, after dropper full. The next day she received a vitamin drink. Her energy increased, and her unique personality began to show. In just those few short hours her trust of me had already grown. Her health more stable, she was ready to make the trip to the avian veterinarian for treatment.
Dr. Peterson, better known as Dr. P, was eagerly waiting for us when we arrived at the Troy Animal Hospital. I brought the green cat carrier into the exam room and gently set it on the sterile, stainless steel table. I could almost see Dr. P's heart drop to the floor when she opened the carrier door and lifted the hen onto the table. "Poor thing," said Dr. P before she began the examination and blood tests. After extensive evaluation, Hope was diagnosed with pale mucous membranes, a sinus infection, a hard nodule ventral to her left eye, a hemetone on her left wing, bruising on her upper dorsal surface, and abrasions and swelling on her right foot and toe. Dr. P confirmed that she was emaciated, weak, and suffering from severe muscle trauma. A fecal examination revealed the parasite coccidia. She received fluid injections to help re-hydrate her underweight body and give her much needed strength. For five days she was nurtured in a warm, isolation ward and treated with medication.
Today, the hen who was first discovered barely living, left to die alone in a trash bin amidst the dead bodies of her sisters in the hopeless misery of Weaver Bros. Egg Farm, now lives free. She has been given the name Hope, in aspiration that one day there will be no egg factories, no battery cages, and no exploitation.
Written by Nathan Runkle, MFA investigator