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Sep 21st
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Chicken Refugees

blog hensAlmost 2,000 hens from Northern California need to be placed in new homes or face execution 

Approximately 1,800 chickens from a Northern California farm that have aged past their egg-bearing prime—about 1-and-a-half to 2 years old—need to be placed in homes before the second week of April or face certain death by poison gas.

When a farmer’s chickens stop producing an economically viable number of eggs, the birds are routinely put down. In California, the common means of death is by gas. 

Kim Sturla, executive director for Animal Place, a rescue organization headquartered on 600 acres in Grass Valley, helped to create a unique program in which the staff proactively contacts chicken egg farmers across the state and requests that they give their “spent” hens over to them as an alternative to the death sentencing. Animal Place then works with the SPCA and various animal shelters, such as the one belonging to Santa Cruz County, to place the chickens in new homes. Animal Place dubs these collaborators their “flock partners,” Sturla says.

According to Melanie Sobel, the general manager at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS), they will take on 34 of the chickens via Animal Place. Sturla says she hopes that if SCCAS can find homes for those chickens that they will take on another group before mid April. She says that between 500 and 600 chickens from the Northern California farm have already been placed. The birds going up for adoption will be selling for $5 or $7 per bird, depending on the quantity—get a better deal with a purchase of 10 or more. 

Sobel says that chicken adoption in Santa Cruz County is quite popular.

“A lot of people don’t want to buy processed eggs from grocery stores,” she says. “They want eggs that are from animals that are treated humanely. They don’t want to support factory farming where these animals are mistreated.” 

Sturla explains that about 98 percent of the eggs in grocery stores come from large “battery cage” operations, in which hundreds of cages are stacked on top of one another with four to eight hens crammed into each. A typical Heritage breed chicken will naturally lay a few dozen eggs per year, but these big farm hens are bred and raised to lay more than 300 eggs in that same time frame.

“That’s an enormous amount,” she says. “It taxes their [biological] system considerably.”

After a year or two, the chickens lose their ability to produce those kinds of quantities and it ceases to be in the farmer’s financial interest to keep the birds alive.

The Northern California chicken farmer, who, as part of the agreement with Animal Place will not be identified, is retiring from the business and has given Animal Place until mid-April to place his chickens with animal shelters and in homes. The ones who cannot be placed will be out of luck. 

Animal Place has a confidentiality agreement with the farms where they collect the chickens to not share the names of the farms and the farms agree to not advertise the arrangement with Animal Place.

“They can’t use our name in helping to promote their eggs and we don’t tell folks where the chickens came from,” Sturla says. 

Since the inception of this chicken rescue program, Animal Place has saved about 12,000 chickens, she says.

Because Animal Place is still in possession of several hundred hens from a rescue last year in Southern California, where a total of 3,000 birds were saved, and coupled with a changing of staff, the organization is unable to acquire all of the hens up front, and instead must identify rescue homes in advance. 

“We can only rescue the number of birds that we can immediately line up homes for,” Sturla says. But, “hell or high water, we’re going to get those 1,800 out.”

Adoption information is available at animalplace.org/help-a-hen-rescue.

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