Chickens have tear ducts, but they do not cry. It’s not because they lack emotions like empathy and love. I want to believe they don’t cry because they hold onto hope so strongly.
Seeing Pearl care for Blanche while she was not well has convinced me even more that chickens have emotions. Have I ever told someone else, “Eat all you want, and when you’ve had all you want, then I’ll have some too”? Pearl did that every day for Blanche when she was sick.
This past weekend when I talked with a friend who had also raised chickens, he shared a suspicion I had only thought about but never voiced.
Blanche and Pearl are both Plymouth White Rocks, the breed you will often see raised for meat. To be economical, they must become ready for slaughter as soon as possible. They are bred to grow quickly to marketable size, not to be backyard pets with long and happy lives like I hope for Blanche and Pearl.
So I wonder if whatever is wrong with Blanche is a result of something unusual in her genes making her grow larger and faster than any of my other chickens including Pearl. Maybe she inherited extra “get big fast” genes.
She is also in a real home where she has already lived much longer than the majority of her kind. Elsewhere she would have never lived long enough for any genetic health problems to show. She would be gone, leaving Pearl to wonder where she was. Then Pearl would be gone too.
In the United States, the average slaughter age for a chicken is 47 days. In the European Union, the average slaughter age is 42 days, just six weeks. It’s more or less equal to the time period from New Year’s Day to Valentines Day, an incredibly short span to grow from a hatchling fluff of mostly feathers to a dinner-ready broiler.
Neither Blanche nor Pearl have ever realized their genetic instinct to eat “as if their lives depended on it” would have actually ended in their own deaths by being slaughtered in the poultry industry…if they hadn’t by random chance come to have a home in my backyard. (Their hatchling brothers never made it past their first day or two once it was determined they were males which are not used for meat.)
Blanche and Pearl both have had voracious appetites, far more than any of the others. I believe for both of them this has been genetic, just more so for Blanche. Even though there was ample food provided, it was necessary to separate the two of them from the others to save Emily’s life. Because she was the smallest, they would peck her head to make her back off from getting food so they could get more for themselves. This is how strong their desire to eat was.
Last winter, Blanche and Pearl were just a little over six months old, still maturing, and neither had laid their first egg. This winter, they are fully grown, and I think the cold has affected Blanche the most.
As the temperatures began to drop, so did her health. Likewise as the temperatures began to rise, so did her health. Many of her symptoms were ones I would have associated with old age: stiffness, slowness, lack of focus, unclear vision. These could be related to her body having been stressed and perhaps weakened internally by fast growth to such a large size, even when compared to Pearl.
The weekend Blanche was beginning to show positive signs was Super Bowl Weekend here in the United States. It was also when 1.25 billion chicken wings were served before, during, and after the big game. Many of those wings were from Plymouth White Rock chickens, like Blanche and Pearl. 1,250,000,000 is a huge number of chicken wings for just one day. Yet it is only a small part of the poultry industry.
And so I wondered, “Was this necessary? Was this needful?” These are questions I want to ask myself more often.
The previous Sunday, my church group served dinner to over forty homeless guests who spent the night with us as part of Shelter Week. Fried chicken was the main entree with sweet potatoes, collards, and a big honey-drizzled biscuit. Emily contributed eggs towards the chocolate and vanilla cakes I baked. For me, the questions “Was this necessary?” and “Was this needful?” were answered differently in this situation.
I’m not advocating a vegetarian diet, just a more humane diet. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for having a good time with friends and favorite foods. There are truly alarming facts and photographs I could share, but I know you can find those for yourself.
I just want to be a friendly voice for Blanche and for Pearl (who would be heartbroken without her), and for all of their sisters and cousins who will never know the simple pleasures of a sunny day and a patch of ground to call their own.
Maybe with our stories, Gracie and the others will encourage more people to begin asking, “Is this food choice necessary and needful? Is it causing harm and suffering?”
My Life With Gracie helped me to be a better friend to those who have no hope without us.
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