Continuing on the theme of our tendency to value some animals differently than others, I'm grateful to animal advocate, filmmaker and friend Adam Durand for sharing "25 Random Things About Chickens" ...
I'm so tired of talking about me all the time that I've made a list of random things about my favorite animal: the chicken! I'm willing to make huge sacrifices for these little guys, so I felt I should tell you why. If you want to know more, check out my movie Fowl Play:
1. Chickens were domesticated from the Red Junglefowl of Southeast Asia. Junglefowl are social forest-dwellers who perch, make calls, and look much like modern chickens. U nlike the ancestors of cows (the beastly "aurochs," the last of whom were killed hundreds of years ago), Junglefowl still co-exist with humanity, but they're thought to be facing extinction through interbreeding with domesticated chickens.
2. The disparaging term "bird brain" is based on outdated science. Researchers, in recent years, have learned that chickens and other birds are intelligent for their comparative brain size because they use more of their brain for higher-level thinking than previously expected.
3. As social animals, chickens can recognize each other by their facial features, communicate with dozens of distinct calls, and solve problems as a group. "As a trick at conferences I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys," says animal behaviorist Dr. Chris Evans.
4. Even though they've evolved to communicate vocally instead of through gestures or facial expressions that humans understand, chickens are every bit as capable of feeling joy, pain, relief, and distress as dogs and cats are.
5. The "Bird Flu" craze may have calmed down for now, but modern research shows that the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed more people than World War I, came from an avian source.
6. About 9 billion chickens are slaughtered each year in the US alone. This includes egg-laying chickens who are slaughtered when their egg production declines.
7. Chickens have been domesticated as egg producers and occasional meat sources for thousands of years, but they weren't raised specifically for meat until the 1920's. Now they're the most commonly raised and slaughtered meat animals worldwide.
8. This sounds obvious, but chickens must be raised and killed in such large numbers because their bodies are comparatively much smaller than those of cows or pigs, and so have only a tiny fraction of the meat on them.
9. Meat-type chickens are bred for maximum growth speed, and reach slaughter weight in 45 days, twice as fast as they did a few decades ago, and so young that they're still chirping when they're sent to slaughter.
10. Although the federal "Humane Methods of Slaughter Act" requires that animals be rendered fully unconscious before slaughter, all poultry are exempted from the law. The vast majority of chickens slaughtered in the US are electrically stunned but remain fully conscious as their throats are slit.
11. Chickens occasionally miss the blade at the slaughter plant and are scalded alive in the defeathering tanks.
12. Experts have developed systems that would kill chickens painlessly (and much more efficiently than current systems), but US chicken processors do not yet feel the pressure to invest in the new systems.
13. The genetic selection of egg-producing birds is now so advanced that the birds are marketed by their numbers (like the "W-36" or "W-98"). These birds lay twice as many eggs as hens did a few decades ago, and ten times as many eggs as Red Junglefowl.
14. Chickens can live for 20 years, but the lifespan of modern egg-laying breeds has not been studied because the industry kills them at such an early age anyway.
15. Battery cage egg production, the most common form of egg production in the US, is so inhumane that it has been outlawed in parts of Europe and will be illegal across the entire European Union by 2012.
16. This past fall, Californian voters got to decide whether battery cages and other forms of farm animal confinement should be illegal. They outlawed battery cages by an overwhelming margin. In fact, the ballot proposition did better than Barack Obama did in California.
17. Modern egg production has become so automated that one worker is expected to "care" for hundreds of thousands of animals. Animals are left to die if they get sick or stuck in their cages.
18. Cage-free eggs are a far better option than battery cage eggs, but just like their caged sisters, cage-free chickens are generally confined in giant sheds without access to sunlight, have the ends of their beaks seared off at a young age to reduce the damage caused by stress-induced aggression, and are slaughtered or gassed at about 18 months because their egg production declines.
19. CO2 is the gas used to kill "spent" laying hens at the end of their useful lives. Unlike the "passing out" that one experiences from breathing an inert gas like Argon, CO2 is a very painful way to die, but it's also cheap for the industry.
20. Sometimes the hens survive the gassing process and must struggle to survive in a landfill.
21. Male chickens are useless to the egg industry (they don't grow fast enough to be raised for meat) so once they've hatched, they're ground or smashed alive, or even worse, suffocated in plastic bags or garbage bins.
22. Even chickens kept in backyards usually come from hatcheries that kill off male chicks. Therefore, if painfully killing baby animals is inhumane, it's hard to imagine how one could produce a "humane" egg.
23. Meat-type birds who get to live out their lives on a sanctuary face major health problems from their overweight bodies, including broken or infected legs and heart attacks. Egg laying hens are bred to be small and thus avoid those problems, but do develop infected vents from laying so many eggs.
24. Both chicken meat and eggs are high in cholesterol, and neither are necessary to live a long and happy life.
25. If you care about chickens, you can start helping them today by joining the growing group of people who refuse to eat "products" that come from them.
For more on not one sparrow's approach to eating compassionately, which includes vegetarianism and veganism among faithful options, please see this FAQ and blog series. By the way, I highly recommend Adams excellent documentary Fowl Play, co-made with Mercy for Animals, for learning more about how chickens are raised for food on factory farms. Here is the film's trailer:
(sincere thanks to Adam for sharing "25 Random Things About Chickens," originally posted as a Facebook note; photos credit 123rf.com)