A representative of Farm Sanctuary has asked me, in the most eloquent and gracious way possible, not to use their materials for the upcoming “Hen Happening” on Food Day in Savannah (Oct 22nd). They’re all about being vegan, and don’t want to encourage hen keeping, which definitely has a dark side. Like the dairy industry, it has to do with unwanted baby males. The Farm Sanctuary rep, Sophia, a name that means wisdom, gave me a visual I won’t soon forget of what happens to these downy chick babies at big hatcheries.
It’s led me to look at my relationship to the web of life. We got all our hens as adults, except for the first five which did come from a mail-order chick company (not ordered by us, but the previous owner). The plan is to keep them in their dotage, though we haven’t crossed that bridge yet. They live a free and safe life on an organic farm, with acres to hunt for bugs, sun awkwardly on their sides and as the day darkens, find their roost in a spacious hen house with a tin roof. It’s been jokingly called the Chicken spa and resort.
But I see where Farm Sanctuary is coming from, in needing to look at the big picture of the industry overall. So many times, there’s an urgent call out to find a home for a rooster in our backyard chickens group. And it’s not clear where many of the hens come from, or what their fate is, after their productive years are over. These are issues worth looking at, as more are becoming interested in keeping hens.
As a sensitive person, it was stinging to get such a response, and reminded me of that time as a horse carriage tour driver. Beyond the sting is reflection on assumptions, and the way we engage with our relations — as working animals or food producing ones. A draw of keeping hens is self-sufficiency in an uncertain time. But as a person of integrity, I want to reflect on that relationship — am I doing right by these birds that give so much? For now, the answer is yes.
It’s good to get clear that I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan. To be precise with the labels, I’m an ovo-pescaterian (someone who eats eggs and fish), who is sometimes a semi-vegetarian at the holidays. I’ve had a bit of a blind spot, with my enthusiasm for Farm Sanctuary and their mission to promote veganism, along with confronting factory farming. I understand that it’s confusing to mix the messages, since I’m a hen keeper.
So while I will continue to support Farm Sanctuary as a member, this blog will either end or change tack, to catch the wind I’m riding on. If you’re inspired to give to the amble for animals (and Farm Sanctuary), my donation page is still active. It’s got a picture of Big Shirley and Sarah in the broody box.
I am excited by these times of definitive endings and beginnings — sometimes happening at the same time! I want to continue to make decisions with animals in mind, and Sophia’s email has enlightened me and helped me clarify my own relation — to the web of life.
Image: Taken on my foggy morning walk September 28th, one of hundreds of webs in the fields, fences, trees and weeds.