Our relocation from Maryland to Vermont in mid-2009 enabled us to substantially expand the number and kind of animals to whom we offer sanctuary. At present, 80 roosters, 165 hens, 20 pigeons, 30 doves, 8 ducks, 3 geese, 2 turkeys, 2 horses, 6 cows, and 5 parakeets call VINE home… and more arrive almost every month!
Watch this space (and subscribe to our blog) for news of new rescues. Meantime, here’s a sampling of the recent rescue efforts that have brought animals to the sanctuary.
• In April, 2010, we rescued 42 hens from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Vermont. The land seemed nice enough, but the coop itself was a tiny shed on wheels which was rolled around as the farmer wanted, to force the chickens to scratch and fertilize the soil exactly where the farmer wanted. Using chickens for this purpose is common in organic farming. Because of the lack of regulation of labeling, eggs labeled “free range” often come from hens housed in such mobile prisons.
Belying the happy-animal reputation wrongly enjoyed by most such farms, the coop at this CSA was at least a foot deep in old feces, feathers, and muck of all kinds. There was a single feeder and waterer, both dusty, hanging from the rafters. There were no windows and few perches. The combs of these hens were very pale due to lack of proper exposure to sunshine. Until we made him stop, the farmer grabbed each bird by her legs and swung her out to us, demonstrating the same disregard he had shown for their welfare throughout their lives.
Within a few weeks of truly being allowed to range freely at the sanctuary, the hens rescued from the CSA had healthy, bright-red combs. Their happiness at being sprung from their mobile prison was evident in the spring in their steps.
• Another “free-range” rescue became possible when a local egg-seller agreed to surrender 45 hens, along with three geese and two turkeys. The coop looked fabulous from the outside, possibly tricking local egg-buyers into thinking they were purchasing “humane” eggs.
Inside, however, it was another story. There was no bedding at all. The coop had no windows, and old feces, dirt, and feathers were piled high on the floor. The foraging yard was tiny and extremely muddy. As at the CSA, the birds were handled without regard for the fact that they were living, breathing creatures who can feel pain and fear. For small-scale farmers as for factory farms, our feathered friends are treated like profit-generating machines, worked as hard as possible and then discarded.
After transporting the birds to the sanctuary, we could see that many of them had significant feather loss. All had pale combs, most had leg mites, and many had diarrhea. They have been slow to recover, but it was clear from the instant they stepped outside that they are delighted by their new-found space, freedom, and spectrum of interesting activities. We are thrilled to be giving them a second chance!
• Yet another rescue from a small-scale farm began when a farmer decide—after years of exploiting hens for eggs—that he was done with the birds and simply quit feeding them. After days of starvation, nine hens were rescued and came to live at VINE. They were in bad shape, as one might imagine. Four had few or no feathers on their backs. All of them had worms, and all were severely underweight.
With proper nutrition, the worms were gone the feathers began to grow back. , Best of all, the hens—who had been slumped in depression—started to show interest in life. A full recovery after years of marginal care takes time. For now, they are content to scratch , walk, eat and drink, and sleep in cleanliness and safety.
• The Kapparot saga continued in 2010. Almost every year, for several years now, VINE has taken in a group of rescued “broiler” chickens from the Kapparot ritual in New York. This year, we took in fifteen birds, male and female, all of whom needed extensive medical care before they could be brought to us. While these rotund birds who suffered severe trauma while still very young aren’t the most adventurous of the birds at the sanctuary, they hold their own on the hill, and show the same joy as everyone else at sunrise, when the doors open and they run out to greet the day.
These gentle souls will never see the number years that most other chickens will. Thanks to generations of selective breeding by the poultry industry, “broiler” chickens grow and age at an accelerated rate, developing breast muscles that are too heavy for their skeletons and internal organs to support for very long. Hence, they begin to appear elderly when only one or two years old and are susceptible to heart attacks, heat stroke, and other illnesses. That makes us all the more committed to ensuring that whatever time they do have is as peaceful, interesting, and pleasurable as possible.
• George and George are former fighters. George I was in an FDA parking lot in the Bronx for months by the time we got a call from one of the workers who’d been caring for him. They had been told, by the plant manager, to get rid of him; they were also concerned about how he would fare in the coming winter. We agreed to take him if they could catch him, which was apparently very easy as he’d become quite trusting of his caretakers.
Upon his arrival here, George was a bit nervous for a day or two—who knows if he’d ever been around other chickens! Once he worked things out with some of the bossier roosters, however, he settled in just fine. Now he sleeps in a tree with thirty other birds, and is one of the “major player” roosters in the yard, always involved in whatever is going on.
George II showed up at a Connecticut animal control facility. Not knowing what to do, one of the workers called a local chicken rescuer. She took him in, but quickly got worried when he began fighting with the rooster who was already living there. When roosters don’t have sufficient space and things to do, fighting can ensue. Very frequently, people write off companion roosters as incorrigible fighters when all that they need to do is reduce boredom and frustration by expanding the range allowed each bird. Since this kind rescuer wasn’t sure she would be able to expand their space before winter, she gave us a call and arranged to surrender George to us.
A month later, George II arrived. He had typical start for a rooster coming from cockfighting or overcrowding, fighting it out with just one too many roosters. So, we decided to give him the same rehabilitation we give to rescued fighting roosters. He spent a few days in a kennel situated in the middle of the main yard “down the hill,” where he could remain safe while observing the daily rhythms and routines of the other birds. This allowed him to learn that he doesn’t need to fight to be safe here. Now he’s integrated just fine, and has made friends with Donald, a rooster who came here from a backyard bird situation.