Monday, May 22, 2006

Victories for the Chickens

Recently animal-rights advocates pressured Trader Joes into buying their eggs from farms with cage-free chickens and now I've learned that Google, a company I admire, has taken a principled stand in favor of the chickens:

United Press International - NewsTrack - Google takes up cage-free eggs: "MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., May 11 (UPI) -- California-based Google, one of the hottest companies around, has embraced a hot trend in animal rights -- cage-free eggs.

The company will require that all of its cafes and cafeterias serve only the pricier cage-free eggs, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Google uses about 300,000 eggs a year along with 7,000 pounds of liquid egg products.

Animal-rights activists charge that caged chickens -- sometimes called battery-raised, because the cages are piled high -- have miserable lives during their productive egg-laying months, confined six to a cage with only 67 square inches of floor space per chicken. Egg farmers say caged chickens are just as happy as -- and healthier than -- those raised outdoors or in open barns.

Google is jumping on a bandwagon that already includes America On Line and Bon Appetit Management, a catering company serving a number of Silicon Valley companies. Several universities have also pledged to serve cage-free eggs.

'There's a ripple effect that I think will happen,' said John Dickman, Google's food service manager. 'Other companies also will want to ensure humane treatment of animals.'"
Claiming to be a chicken farmer may be an overstatement, because I'm only raising two Rhode Island Red chickens as a hobby. They are about 4 months old and I've learned that they are full of personality and communication skills.

We raised them under lights to keep them warm and when the weather was warm enough, we put them in a little chicken hutch under high wattage light bulbs to keep them warm. Because of some construction work we moved their cage to a location behind the laundry room and sometime later my partner, Rob, did some laundry and forgot the chickens were there.

We were watching TV when he noticed that the temperature in their hutch was unusually high. (The thermometer in their hutch was broadcasting to the living room.) I ran out and found that the dryer was blowing warm moist air into their enclosure. They were crying so I turned the lights off to help them cool down, but the drama queen, Isis, began screaming and having a panic attack. (Maybe it wasn't a scream in the human sense, but she was clearly frightened and was yelling.) This was when I discovered that she's afraid of the dark. I held her in my arms to calm her while Rob moved their hutch and turned the light on again.

A week or so later, the chickens were out in the yard and I failed to put them to bed before nightfall. Isis found the contractor's table saw on the patio, flew up on it and then yelled for us as she hurled her body at a window. I ran out and turned on the light in her coop and she quickly settled down.

Their coop is now in a fenced area of the yard with a sensor that automatically turns a light on for them at dusk.

One afternoon, Rob said the the chickens were making funny noises. I ran out to find Isis pacing back and forth by the fence muttering and moaning. I noticed that the water level was too low for them to scoop water into their beaks so I gave them a refill and they were soon celebrating with happy songs. They now have an water "bowl" that fills automatically several times a week.

Their nights are spent in what we hope is a raccoon-proof coop. We've put so many latches and locks on their doors, I sometimes have trouble getting it open. After a night in the coop, they're excited to get out and exercise. They fly around and do happy dances in the yard.

During the day they keep a watch on the house and when they see me near the door, they call out in a long, slow "bauuwk".

These chickens are capable of and willing to communicate with anyone who'll pay attention and it makes me ill to think of the misery endured by factory-farmed chickens in battery cages, never getting to stretch their wings, getting crapped on and never being recognized for the lovely, sentient creatures that they are. And if you're wondering, no, we don't eat chickens or cows or pigs.

Factory farming is conducted with callous disregard for the comfort of feelings of helpless beings and I hope that some day in the future, we'll look back on this era with the same disgust we now feel for those who kept human slaves in the past.