Coming home to roost
Chicoans make a round-trip journey to provide a home to rescued hens
Two weekends ago, hundreds of young chickens made the trip from a Butte County free-range egg farm—which went out of business and needed to rid itself of 1,800 laying hens—to a pick-up location at a Bay Area ranch-supply store. That same weekend, 15 of the birds made the reverse trip to Chico.
“It was a good two hours down there, and we got traffic even on a Saturday,” said Leslie Corsbie, owner of Chico-based Performance Landscape & Design, of the trip to pick up the hens. She and her son, 15-year-old Josh Corsbie, were two of hundreds of Northern California residents answering the call of Animal Place, a Grass Valley-based animal sanctuary that coordinated the effort to find adoptive homes.
Kim Sturla, executive director of Animal Place, said that the birds not adopted by April 6 likely would be gassed. As a result, Animal Place received an overwhelming response from the public. In fact, on the first weekend of adoptions, the demand actually outpaced the nonprofit’s ability to supply hens, leaving many would-be adopters frustrated and birdless.
“Personally, I was just happy we were able to get there and help the girls,” said Corsbie, who had registered online to adopt. “Patience is necessary with this type of situation.”
Corsbie didn’t know the exact condition of the birds before committing to adoption. When she arrived in Vacaville, she found a livestock trailer packed with white plastic crates, each crate holding around 10 hens. Adopters checked in at a table and then lined up to receive whatever hens were next unloaded. The birds cost between $5 and $7 to adopt.
Speaking the day after picking up the hens, Corsbie explained she decided to act because she didn’t want the chickens to die. As she spoke, the chickens pecked at the ground of their coop, shaded by a blooming magnolia tree and a prolific rosebush, in Corsbie’s backyard a few blocks from Bidwell Junior High.
“I don’t know, it strikes my heart,” she said. “They need a chance to have a decent life, and just be chickens.”
The 15 birds she ended up with vary in health and are under a year old.
“We have some really pretty ones, and we have some messed up ones,” said Josh, while cradling a chicken in his arm inside their coop. “She’s the kind of beat-up one,” he said, pointing to a hen with large swaths of feathers missing from her back. Corsbie is treating her skin lesions with an herbal skin remedy. All the birds were alert and active around the coop.
In addition to the public showing up to offer homes to the hens, various “flock partners”—including multiple humane societies and animal shelters, including the Sacramento SPCA—picked up birds to bring to their own shelters for adoption.
The organization had an online application process to assure that adopters intend to care for the hens for the duration of their lives, including after egg production has declined or ceased. The adoption campaign started March 11, and by March 27, the nonprofit’s website announced that all 1,800 hens had found homes.
Animal Place has done large-scale rescues before, including a 3,000-hen rescue last year. In that particular case, Sturla said, the organization still has several hundred birds in its care, despite many of the birds being flown to the East Coast for adoption.
She said the rescue from the Butte County egg farm—a free-range farm whose name and exact location were not released—is a first for the group since the hens didn’t need rehabilitation prior to adoption. This would not be the case had the birds been raised in battery cages.
“Ninety-eight percent [of the egg industry’s hens] are kept in battery cages … oftentimes stacked on top of one another, housed inside large warehouses, where they can house tens of thousands” of egg-laying hens during their brief lives, Sturla explained. “Of all the animal industry, it is probably the most horrific.”
Hens that may never have been outside or stretched their wings in their lives need to learn how to roost and be given time to build their atrophied muscles. Sturla said this takes at least a month in Animal Place facilities. She said the hens from the Butte County egg farm were adoptable immediately because they were used to being outside.
“They’re used to going into the barn to roost at night, so they’re far, far healthier than when we rescue from a battery operation,” Sturla explained.
Although Sturla believes the chickens should’ve been used to roosting, Corsbie found her chickens sleeping outside, instead of making their way into the coop on their first night. “They were really easy to move last night. We came out with flashlights,” Corsbie said. “They just didn’t know where to go,” added Josh.
One thing they do know how to do is lay eggs.
“When we came to lock them up, they had three,” said Josh. “In here this morning there were four more!” added Corsbie.
Animal Place’s website is now maintaining a wait list for future hen rescues; they also have some hens from previous rescues up for adoption.
“We’re trying to find adopters who have a respect for, compassion for, and interest in the chickens for being chickens. That isn’t everybody, and that is why the adoption process is a slow one for us, and we don’t adopt them to everybody,” Sturla said. “We see these chickens … having the right to have a wonderful life as much as my dog or cat.”
Yet, Sturla believes that future large-scale rescues will continue to be on the horizon. She encourages backyard farmers to consider rescuing chickens before purchasing chicks from a breeder, drawing parallels to dog and cat rescue: “The motto is, adopt from a shelter, adopt from a rescue group, don’t go to a pet store, don’t go to a breeder and buy an animal … We have a lot of chickens that need homes. It’s kind of a win-win for everybody. You don’t have to worry about getting a rooster in the mix, and you are helping to save a life. What’s better than that?”