Take the Chickens and Run!

How 10 battery-caged hens came to live at UPC

By Jim Sicard
Rescue A
Photo by Jim Sicard

The first door was locked. So was the second. And the third. Damn! Months earlier, they'd been tipped off about a hen factory in Maryland. A fireman who went there to put out a fire told UPC he'd never seen anything like it--that was the last egg he'd ever eat. Dressed in black and armed with a video camera, they made the two-hour trip. In the back of the truck were blankets, pillow cases, a camcorder, camera, vision goggles, gloves, surgical masks, a flashlight, and a pry bar.

At one o'clock a.m., they made their journey across the field to the compound. Ten minutes and two fences later, they stood before 5 buildings. A few trucks and trailers were scattered about.

The fifth door opened. They went in. Inside, the buildings were attached to one another by a hall through which the eggs went by a conveyer belt to a sixth building where they were crated and loaded on trucks. What they experienced was so horrible one couldn't imagine it. No wonder the workers wore full face ventilators. The air was vile with ammonia, 90 degrees, dusty, moist, and sickening.

They went on with their plan. First they filmed the place. Rows of cages the size of a doormat to the floor, each one stuffed with debeaked hens with spindly long claws and limp, lifeless wattles. They walked slowly down the aisles filming these poor souls. Occasionally a hen started when the camera went off; otherwise they barely moved.

Stage two, the rescue. They decided to take ten hens, but which ones? In the end it was random. They selected a bank of cages and pulled out the pillow cases. They slid open the gate on top of a cage. It was narrower than the hens' bodies. It took them longer to carefully pull out one terrified hen clinging to the wire than it would have taken the catchers to empty several cages. They put ten hens in three pillow cases and took off. Ten minutes after running and stumbling across the field in the dark, they gently opened the pillow cases into the back of the truck.

The hens lay still the entire ride back. Maybe they would die but at least they were out of there. They were weak, but as time showed, tough. A couple of hours later, they were at United Poultry Concerns. Free at last!

Three months later in June, the change in these hens is amazing. In March they were ravaged, scraggly bodies with doughy combs and murky eyes. Now they run around the yard on their strong little legs with snowy feathers, red combs, bright eyes, and claws almost normal. Sweet Pea, Portia, Pearl, and Pia perch together every night. What's especially wonderful is to walk outside and see two or three of these beautiful hens resting quietly in the branches of a tree.

From left to right: In the two months following their rescue, the hens became healthier and happier in their new home. Rescue B
Rescue C
Rescue D
Photos by Jim Sicard
United Poultry Concerns provides a permanent sanctuary for rescued chickens. Please consider making a generous gift to ensure that hens like Sweet Pea, Portia, Pearl, and Pia will continue to find a haven at United Poultry Concerns. With your loving gift, United Poultry Concerns can ensure that many more hens will be Free at Last.