Where We Begin
If I’ve learned anything from being an advocate for a better world, it’s that the story is rarely about you. It’s about them. Those who are impacted by and benefit from the actions of others. There are people doing incredible work. Everyone has their part in the story. No matter how small. I want to tell you about my small part in a story that means a lot to me.
I love chickens. Like head over heels, I will stare at them all day, in love with chickens. I have my own small flock and I’m always on the lookout for those who need homes. I don’t like this time of year when all the farm stores promote “chick days!” It’s a terrible practice, but that’s not what this story is about. For ethical reasons, I make it a point not to purchase chicks from farm stores, especially when every year hundreds of thousands of hens are “retired” by egg farms. At two years old, they are retired. Some farmers are open to offering these chickens to people to adopt them. Why wouldn’t we adopt them? I see posts about this often and so want to help, and while there is a robust community of chicken lovers willing to adopt and transport, most of the time they are never anywhere close to me – until last month.
A farm in Kentucky was purging their “spent ladies” to make room for new hens. My heart broke for these girls. Here was an opportunity to make a difference for someone I tremendously care for, and amazingly, there were others who felt the same. A kind woman offered to pick up the hens in Kentucky and drive them 7.5 hours to Virginia where another incredible woman wanted to adopt 12 of the hens. The meet up location was 3 hours from me. I immediately reached out to them to offer my home to some of the hens. It was happening.
Have Chickens, Will Travel
The date was set, the plans were in place. On a Sunday night, I set up the temporary coop and prepared my car to transport 8 new chickens. I had medicines, vitamins, electrolytes, and a first aid kit on hand for the new arrivals.I heard they were not in great shape and I wanted to make sure they were comfortable once they got here. I was so nervous, but my heart was so full and I couldn’t wait to meet them.
Monday morning, I set my out of office message to “Chicken rescue mission. Will check in this evening”, knowing I had the full support of my co-workers. The drive was really beautiful and serene. I mulled over names in my head; Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Nicole Kidman, Molly Ringwald, Julia Roberts. I’ve always named the chickens after actors. I went with a redhead theme as I knew these ladies would be a sex link breed which is typically red feathered. A sex link breed is a type of chicken where the male and female feathering is distinguishable at birth. I decided I would have to get to know them before formally naming them.
I arrived at the meet up point and met the woman who had driven the hens from Kentucky. We agreed to wait for the other woman to arrive before transporting the hens to our cars. She said they were very, very scared, and that “The guy chased them with a net to catch them”. No wonder they were terrified of people. We began talking about our flocks at home. She lived in a city area and was maxed out on the number of chickens she could have, so she wasn’t able to adopt any of the ones she rescued. However, she saw the post about them and knew she could offer her services as a transport to others who could take them in. “I had the day off and I’ve made the drive before. It was something I could do,” she said. She wouldn’t take any gas money from me. She simply asked me to give them a good home and when the time comes, to pass on the kindness to someone who can use the help. I made a promise to myself I would.
Our other “partner in rescue” arrived and was so full of energy and excitement. She told us about the playhouse she had altered into a chicken coop! She couldn’t wait to get them home. I couldn’t either. The hens were distributed between four boxes. Two boxes for each of us. We gently lifted each box into our cars and we agreed to share pictures of the hens in their new homes as we said our good byes. Once alone, I peeked inside one of the boxes. I don’t think I’d fully prepared myself for what I saw.. Four skinny, bald, pale, petrified chickens shrunk themselves into a corner of the box. These were not the chickens you see on egg advertisements. This was the reality and it broke me. The tears that came surprised me. They were for them, they were out of relief for them. They wouldn’t endure that cruelty anymore. They were loved. They were going home to be cuddled and spoiled and cared for because all chickens deserve that.
An Unexpected Connection
We began the journey home. I came prepared with food and water and realized I didn’t know if they had been given any water during the first leg of their trip. I pulled into a Walmart parking lot and prepared some water for them. I opened the box and very gently placed the water inside. They all flipped out! This basic act of kindness terrified them. We were still 3 hours from home, but I didn’t want to cause any more stress for them. I removed the water, threw in some food, and reclosed the box.
During the drive I spoke to them in a gentle, soft voice. I told them about their new flock at home, their coop, and that I would always take care of them. Surprisingly, they were also very chatty! I could hear them pecking at the food and talking amongst themselves. The chicken chatter brought a calmness to my heart. It was a beautiful sound. It represented their resilience, their nature. I was in the presence of little fighters and I would be there to support their will to thrive.
Most of the trip was spent on a long stretch of highway. It was easy to find peace in the flow of the traffic and the little chicken voices. Then a truck in the distance caught my attention. My stomach dropped and I pleaded to myself, ‘No, please, no. Don’t be it.’. As I drove closer I could see them. Multicolored crates stacked twelve high; stacks and stacks of them. Each one overflowing with…chickens.They were alive, but as I pulled closer their eyes were empty, their combs were pale and shriveled, their feathers messy and dirty. They were defeated and I couldn’t help them.
After all, I had promised myself that day, I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t help them all. I’ve heard others’ accounts of seeing transport trucks like this, but seeing it for myself on this day – of all days – didn’t feel like a coincidence. It felt meaningful.
I thought about the events that led to the 8 new ladies in my life chattering in the backseat. I couldn’t take all of the hens home, but I could take these 8. It was a small thing. It was my part. I asked myself, ‘Right now, what small thing can I do for those little lives on that truck?’ My tears and breath escaped me. I can be right here with them. I can see them for who they are. I can acknowledge their individuality. I can promise them that when I sign a petition, support organizations fighting for animal rights, rescue chickens, and talk to people about the egg industry, I will think of them. I will always be fighting for them in my small part.
The truck exited the highway and I said “You are loved”. I was again alone with my red ladies. The rest of the trip was quiet; the sun was setting and it was time for sleep. We made it home. They were home. My husband and I carried the boxes to the temporary coop and gently placed each hen on the soft bedding. Their bodies were so warm, so small. They all found each other and created a little chicken pile. They would be ok.
And they are. Their feathers are growing in, they are getting healthier, sassier, and more comfortable in their new home. They are curious about their new flockmates and, not surprisingly, they love corn!
No Part is Ever Too Small
I am genuinely moved and inspired by people who act from their passions, their heart. Like I said earlier, we all play our part in the whole of a story. Some use a day off to go to a poultry farm and pick up chickens for others to care for. Some work out the logistics. Some provide the platform for the connection to happen. Some provide workplaces flexible enough to accommodate a chicken rescue mission, and some of us, like me, drive out to pick up these individuals and provide them with a loving, safe forever home. Without each of these parts, the story wouldn’t be possible.
At TPP, our grantees are acutely attuned to the issues they are most passionate about. No matter how small their part is, they act where they see a difference can be made for those most affected. And often, each of our grantees is a small part of the larger story. They may not be aware of how their parts are connected – to other issues, communities, grantees – but when these incredible individuals follow their heart and do their part, they are weaving a tapestry of change shared around the world.