Winter 1996/97 Poultry Press
POTOMAC GAZETTE - Vol. 10, No. 31 Wednesday, September 4, 1996 - 104 pages
Where chickens come home to roost
by Janet Rathner - Staff Writer
If chickens could talk, the stories they would tell. But since they can't talk, the stories come from possibly their greatest friend --Karen Davis of the Potomac area.

Davis tells stories of chickens spending their lives in cages so cramped their feathers fall out leaving them bald, covered with bruises and dirty. Of broiler hens bred and fed to grow to abnormal size and so top-heavy they fall over when they try to walk. Of being loaded with thousands of others onto trucks headed for the slaughter house. They arrive there hungry, because chick ens are not fed in their final hours, Davis says. They're grabbed by one leg, hung upside down, rendered immobile, and their throats slit.

The terror eventually ends when the birds are dropped into a scald tank and the ones who haven't done so already, finally die.

"It's a violent process. A lot die of heat suffocation. I watched the process in Richmond in 1992 at a [chicken processing] plant," said Davis, who lives in the Seneca area.

Chickens may not be able to talk, but they do have a voice.

Davis is the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, a 7,000-member, nonprofit organization that addresses the use of poultry in food production, sci ence, education and entertainment.

It's an all-consuming cause for Davis, who gave up her career as a University of Maryland college professor to become a full-time vegetarian Mother Hen. Davis runs the group out of her small rented house that sits off a dirt road on three wooded acres.

She shares her home with her college professor husband, Allan Cate and 28 rescued chickens, each with its own personal tale of trauma.

Take "Glippie," a large white rooster-refugee from a Bob Evans Farm International Chick en Flying Meet in Gallipolis, Ohio.

"Chickens are put in dark boxes and hoisted up. They don't want to fly, so they're pushed out with a toilet plunger. This is presented as family fun," said Davis explaining "Glippie's" ordeal. "Glippie was forced to jump out. I got him. He was three months old and he looked ill. A Bob Evans employee gave him to me for $10."

Bob Evans no longer hosts chicken flying meets. A company spokesperson cited declining public interest, but Davis believes United Poultry Concerns protests at the events helped the company reach that decision.

Other members of the Davis brood include the end results of school egg hatching projects.

"One of our major campaigns is to replace these projects," said Davis pointing to a rooster recently acquired from German town Elementary School. "There's no place for the chickens to go. They're sick and de formed. They get sent back to the farm and they're killed. The children aren't told this. It's disillusioning."

And then there's "Dora," who loves to sit in Davis's lap, and "Ethel" and "Charity," who enjoy roosting under the bushes beside Davis' house. They are three of the 16 broiler hens who came to Davis following last summer's tractor-trailer accident in Springfield, Va. An 18-wheel er carrying 5,000 chickens headed for a slaughter house over turned on Interstate 95 scattering squawking, frightened poultry everywhere.

The chickens who survived the crash sat in their crates for hours in a hot parking lot until arrangements could be made to send them on their way to becoming buffalo wings and chicken tenders.

That's when United Poultry Concerns members arrived. They wanted to rescue the birds, who Davis says were now dying of thirst and heat exposure. The activists were denied their request, but ultimately succeeded in spiriting a few hens to Davis' Seneca sanctuary.

"I wish we'd had a better plan. We should have rescued more," said Davis. "I keep picturing in my mind all those peo ple standing around and those crates and crates and crates of chickens. It was hot as hell, and those birds sat out there for 12 hours."

Davis credits her concern for poultry to "Viva," an abandoned chicken who was living in an old coop behind the house in Seneca when she and her husband moved in 12 years ago.

"Her feet and legs were deformed," said Davis, who remembers the hen had difficulty walking. She was subsequently told by a vet that "Viva" had a congenital abnormality typically found in birds bred for food.

"Viva" eventually had to be euthanized. Her plight led Davis, already involved in animal activism, to focus on poultry. She has since written numerous articles about the subject, published a vegetarian cookbook, and testified before Congress about humane slaughtering methods, although she says that's a subject the group would rather stay away from.

"I don't believe it's possible that commercial goals and humane slaughter are compatible," said Davis, who was recently arrested for protesting an ostrich race and food festival being held at the Prince William County Fair in Manassas, Va.

She says she would prefer humans forsake their carnivorous cravings altogether, but she says she knows her work is cut out for her.

"We have a better chance of bringing vegetarianism to the world in 1,000 years than we do humane slaughter," Davis said.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Gazette Newspapers.
[Top] [Index]