A note from the editors: In a natural environment, chicks would spend much of their first weeks of life peeping out from under their mother’s wings, or exploring by her side, feeling nurtured and protected. But chicks raised for eggs and meat rarely know their mother’s warmth, or experience the sense of security and belonging they instinctively seek. Instead, they are hatched by the hundreds of thousands in massive industrial incubator drawers stacked ceiling to floor.
And what of all the would be mother hens? 95% of all hens used for eggs in the U.S. – nearly 300 million birds – spend their lives in battery cages so small they cannot even stretch their wings. Packed in at 5–10 birds per cage, they can only stand or crouch on the cages’ hard wires, which cut their feet painfully. In these maddening conditions, hens will peck one another from stress. Rather than give them more room, farmers cut off a portion of their sensitive beaks without any painkiller.
Hens exploited for eggs are typically slaughtered at around 18 months of age. Chickens bred for meat are killed at only 7 weeks of age, in a natural lifespan of 8 to 10 years.
Rhonda and Popeye were luckier. We are grateful to Tamara Kenneally for permission to reprint these photos and their story.
It was November 2014 and Rhonda the Rhode Island Red hen was broody again. All day she sat on her eggs with steely determination. Rhonda is a chronic brooder and we’ve watched her for many years sit on eggs in desperation to hatch them. We’ve always agreed not to let our animals breed as I have a strict no breeding policy at Lefty’s Place – there are enough animals needing homes and love in this world to bring any more into it.
This particular time, though, there was a problem. Arguments abounded in the household. One of us was vehemently against Rhonda having a chick and one of us was for it. Sadly, as I was away from home working for a few of those weeks, the person who wanted Rhonda to have the chick won out and “accidentally” forgot to collect the eggs. Late November 2014 saw a little ball of yellow fluff hatch open to the world, and to Rhonda’s delight, she finally had a baby.
Not knowing if this chick was a male or female I named him/her, “Poppy Popeye”. This gave the option of either name being used when we found out what sex the little one was.
Rhonda threw herself into her mothering role with gusto. Her happiness dimmed my anger at the “accidental” hatching as this seemed to be one of the most important things that had ever happened to Rhonda. Her life was consumed with her baby. She taught Poppy Popeye everything and kept him safe from the other chickens with passion. No one dared come near Poppy Popeye in the end because Rhonda’s attacks were less than pleasant.
Sometimes I watched this duo with sadness thinking of all the chicks who never get to experience such a mother’s love, who never get to experience being taught how to be a chicken by their loving mothers. Rhonda’s love for her baby was no different than a human woman’s love for her baby – it was raw, real and unwavering.
It became apparent that Poppy Popeye was a male as soon as I saw his little comb growing in the shape of his father’s, Super Chicken’s, comb. He grew to be quite lanky and lean. He was definitely a rooster! His name was immediately changed to “Popeye” and he began to become a cheeky teenager.
As he grew, I realised that Popeye’s real mother was Pickles – she is a Leghorn/New Hampshire cross. Rhonda seemingly sat and hatched one of Pickle’s eggs instead of her own, yet it made no difference to her, she still loved Popeye as her own flesh and blood.
Rhonda continued to teach Popeye the ways of the world until he was about 4 months old, and then Popeye decided it was time to explore the world on his own terms. He started to try out his croaky crow. He and Super Chicken get along fine; there is no fighting thus far, they seem to just stay out of each other’s way.
These days, Popeye is the one chicken I have who refuses to go into the chicken run at the routine, expected time. Everyone comes running for their nightly feed, but Popeye has his own adventures to attend to. We have created a special little door for him to get back into the chicken run after the others are locked in. The worry lines on my face have become deeper and darker worrying about him each late afternoon. But as he gets older, he won’t want to leave the hens, and will go in with them at the right time. I look forward to that day. — Tamara Kenneally
More chickens are exploited and killed for food than all other land animals combined, yet not a single federal law protects these birds from abuse.
Please learn more at our Chickens for Eggs Factsheet and our Chickens for Meat Factsheet. And please consider living vegan. Click here to learn why more and more people are making the decision to go vegan for the animals, for the planet, and for their health.
Tamara Kenneally is an award winning, animal-based photographic artist living in Victoria, Australia. She has a passionate interest in animal behavior, animal rights and animal welfare, which greatly influence her work. Tamara has a degree in Media Arts (fine art photography) and post graduate qualifications in Animal Welfare.
Tamara has exhibited widely in both group and solo exhibitions around Australia. Her work examines the ways in which people view, use and relate to animals. She photographs farmed animals in a way she hopes will help the viewer to connect and feel something for them. Learn more at her website and visit her facebook page for more photos and stories.