My experience with rescuing and keeping adopted chickens is that, no matter how well you treat them, they always face a multitude of health obstacles as a result of the selective breeding that forces them to lay an unnaturally large amount of eggs. Keeping them healthy is a huge and costly challenge. Sometimes I come across small egg farmers who raise hundreds of hens at a time for their eggs, and who slaughter them after one or two years when their egg laying begins to decline (in a natural lifespan of 10 to 15 years). They claim that problems are rare. I say that they just aren’t seeing the problems because 1. they can’t possibly attend to the individual health needs of each bird, instead practicing overall “flock management” (weak or sickly birds are culled), and 2. they don’t keep them alive long enough to see how things develop.
Some of you may recall that our wonderful hen Sweet Pea needed to have exploratory surgery in March to determine the cause of a large and growing mass in her abdomen. Fortunately it was not a tumor, but the news was nevertheless sobering. An egg had ruptured through her oviduct and into her abdomen. Her liver was very enlarged and masses of fatty tissue were forming around it — a condition called fatty liver disease. Weeks after the surgery, the swelling and redness began to come back and worsen. Yesterday we took her back to the vet, who removed a mass of rotting egg material that was poking through an open wound. For the first time ever, Sweet Pea, the toughest bird I have ever known, looked really sick.
With injectable fluids, she seems to have bounced back a bit after 24 hours. Her two major chronic issues are a continual build-up of egg material getting into the wrong parts of her body, and improper kidney function. She drinks a lot of water but excretes it instead of absorbing it; the result is susceptibility to dehydration.
We’ve had four wonderful years with Sweet Pea; now we realize that each day is a gift. We want her to live out her life with us for as long as she is able, and we will do all we can to make her life happy and comfortable.
If you would like to help Sweet Pea and birds like her, please consider making a donation. We rely exclusively on donations like yours to fund our programs, including chicken rescue and care, and advocacy on behalf of exploited chickens everywhere. By personalizing each rescued bird as a unique and complex individual, we work to break down harmful stereotypes and awaken empathy. Our storytelling, photos and videos provide an intimate glimpse into each individual bird’s personality, as well as the horrors of the egg and chicken meat industries. Many people will never have an opportunity to visit a sanctuary in person; our “virtual visit” is the next best thing to being there, providing a powerful way for potentially millions of people to reconnect with animals. If you would like to learn more about how to support our work, or how we use donor funds, please check out our new case for support brochure.