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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Of the Goat: Gentle and Trusting


The opening

The story on our gentle fellow Earthling, The Goat comes in the wake of the declaration at the recent Francis Crick Memorial Conference entitled, Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals in Cambridge, UK. This declaration signed by the cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists present at the conference submits that:

“…. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” (The Cambridge Declaration)

To simplify, the declaration acknowledges that animals are conscious beings just like us, humans. What does “consciousness” mean or what does it mean to be “conscious”? Consciousness is defined as the state of being aware of one's surroundings. Without the faculty of consciousness, we will not have any experience at all. In being able to withdraw ourselves from painful stimuli, graduate towards stimuli that bring us joy, suffer physical pain, and such, both human and nonhuman animals are alike. However, human and nonhuman animals also differ in their ability for conscious experiences. For example, while animals cannot reason the way humans can, they have a superior sense of smell and the ability to hear sounds of very high or very low frequencies. We often refer to these abilities as the “sixth sense” of animals and human beings who are capable of them are often regarded as “intuitive”, “clairvoyant”, “psychic”, and so on. Perhaps because animals do not have the same equipment to bring about speech typical to humans and therefore cannot vie for their rights themselves, our species has accorded them property status and consequently made them objects of food, entertainment, and fashion. The fact that in our capacity to feel physical pain and fear, both humans and animals are the same, has been completely disregarded. In fact, violence towards animals is not considered “violence” at all.   

Consciousness makes nonhuman animals just as “sentient” as us. If our choices bring them suffering, it certainly means that in the web of life governed by the supreme principle of cause and effect, we pay for making the cruel choices in some way, some time, whether we like to admit it or not. The above declaration from the scientific community spells things that most people working for and living with animals already know through experience, observations, and intuition; yet this declaration must be applauded because in the human-engineered suffering of animals in today’s society, it indicates a positive movement for animal rights advocacy.   


The Goat: Perceiving them with a new lens

In our country, goats are mostly perceived as “food” animals from whom meat and milk is derived, and as animals used for ritualistic sacrifice. Several years ago, we had met a compassionate gentleman in the city of Dehradun who had opened his premises to goats rescued from ritualistic sacrifice. The goats reminded one a lot about dogs in their interaction with humans. They would wag their short little tails in glee, come darting when their names were called, lock horns with each other in playfulness. The goat kids were as cute, fluffy, and bouncy as puppies, and it was difficult to fathom that they would have been beheaded for the sake of superstitions had the gentleman not taken them in.

In his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Histori├Žin (translated: “Natural History”, published circa A.D. 77 – 79), Pliny the Elder, the Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher wrote the following about the goat, based on eyewitness accounts:

“Mutianus relates an instance of the intelligence of this animal, of which he himself was an eye-witness. Two goats, coming from opposite directions, met on a very narrow bridge, which would not admit of either of them turning round, and in consequence of its great length, they could not safely go backwards, there being no sure footing on account of its narrowness, while at the same time an impetuous torrent was rapidly rushing beneath; accordingly, one of the animals lay down flat, while the other walked over it.” (source)

Remarkable, isn’t it?!


Jackie and Freddie about to lock horns for a little fun! Who are they? Read on….
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary

A lot of modern-day data about goat intelligence, their personalities and rich emotional lives has come via stories from animal sanctuaries in the US and Europe, also known as “care farms”. Some of these sanctuaries have been specifically instituted for goats. These sanctuaries have presented a whole new paradigm of looking at the goat, doing justice to the kind, compassionate, and fair side of human nature. They are not only paradise for the goat residents but also for the humans who work in them. There is no victimization of the human soul by conditioning them to oppress animals and no exploitation of another species; only a heartfelt effort at reversing the great damage done to the human reputation. There is no judgment in terms how intelligent or how emotionally capable goats are in comparison to humans or other animals, but simply an appreciation of and honor for their unique abilities and the drive to help some of them, if not all, to come out of their traumatic pasts. Jackie and Freddie in the photograph above are residents of one such sanctuary called, Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Both Jackie and Freddie were brought to the sanctuary when they were orphaned after hunters killed their respective mothers.


Data from sanctuaries

The goat residents in these sanctuaries have been rescued from the following places and conditions: slaughterhouses, auctions where they were to be sold for meat, dairies where they were no longer needed because of a decline in milk production, the petting zoo industry, breeders, hunters, research labs, and other abusive situations such as abandonment, neglect, starvation, terrible cruelty, and so on. The goats are brought to the sanctuaries wounded, ailing, emaciated, and traumatized.

Weeks of medical care and kindness provided to them in these sanctuaries help the goats bounce back to the creatures that Nature meant them to live as – in open pastures, each with their individual personalities and intelligence. Here, the rescued goats live out the rest of their lives in care and safety. Many of these sanctuaries also help rehabilitate goats into human families who love them and want them as companions. Many also offer a system of fostering. One remarkable thing we found is that whether adoption or foster case, all involved human families need to sign an “agreement” consenting to the conditions of care; especially the clause around “no breeding” of the does (female goats) is taken very seriously. It is a little risky to neuter the female goats; all sanctuaries ensure that the bucks (male goats) are neutered.

Tommy giving goat kisses. He was rescued from the slaughterhouse.
Photo courtesy of: Puget Sound Goat Rescue
In addition, these havens also offer goat care classes in an effort to dispel myths about these animals, inform about their shelter requirements, their needs for companionship, what they should be given to eat, their interactions with other animals, and how to care for them if they are ill and also as an everyday maintenance activity. One sanctuary called the New Moon Farm Goat Rescue and Sanctuary has even come up with a fun event for adopted goats and their human companions called Goatalympics!       

Today one can read many heartfelt goat rescue stories on the Internet documented by these animal sanctuaries. Miracles happen here. The goats respond accordingly to the kind and caring environment around them. Here is one story with a happy ending from Leilani Farm Sanctuary of a dairy goat saved from slaughter:

“One February morning on the island of Maui, Bill, a friend of Leilani Farm Sanctuary, went for groceries at Foodland market, located just down the hill from a large dairy farm. As he walked across the parking lot, Bill heard crying coming from inside a car. In the back seat, he saw a goat hog tied and in extreme distress. The car doors were locked, so Bill frantically waited there, making eye contact with the goat until three men approached. The men explained that they had just purchased the goat from a dairy farm and planned to butcher him that weekend for a barbeque. Bill pleaded with the men to relinquish the goat, but they refused. Unable to walk away, knowing the fate that awaited the goat, Bill decided there was no acceptable option other than buying the goat from the men.
Ned
Leilani Farm Sanctuary


Bill named the goat Ned and brought him to Leilani Farm Sanctuary where he has been living for the past six years. Ned, a sweet and gentle soul, seems to have forgotten his ordeal. He and his goat friends spend their days lounging under fruit trees in an orchard, grazing on lush grass in the pasture, and interacting with humans who give them endless love.”

Please note: The dairy goat is treated similarly to the dairy cow in many ways, whether in organic or non-organic farms: Does are kept permanently pregnant and confined in pens with inadequate space. After she gives birth, her kids are taken away; the male kid is sold for meat, the milk is taken away for human consumption. In addition, all dairy goats are subject to painful, dangerous, and traumatic dehorning that involves severing her horns – all for the farmer’s ease because the absence of horns helps in milking her more conveniently. Following a drop in productivity, she is slaughtered. The female kid is placed into the goat-milk industry where she meets the same fate as her mother.


Goat and their relationships

A theme that runs common in all documentation on the goat is that each goat has a distinct personality and no two goats are alike. They build strong relationships with each other and are essentially “herd” animals, which is why most sanctuaries ensure that they are adopted in pairs or more than one. They are of every kind: big, small, friendly, quiet, smart, affectionate, mischievous, inquisitive, spunky, outgoing, mellow, gentle, and even pushy and bossy! However, with humans all are gentle and trusting by nature and make sweet, affectionate companions.

From the slaughterhouse to a loving home: Sassy boards the car to her new home after a complete healing at the sanctuary.
Photo courtesy of: Puget Sound Goat Rescue

Puget Sound Goat Rescue notes this sentiment in their website:

“Goats are wonderful and rewarding pets. They are intelligent, curious, fun, and easy to care for. They can provide you years of entertainment and affection. They can be so affectionate and playful. They love to be brushed and petted and will follow you around like dogs.”

This sentiment is further elaborated by Leilani Farm Sanctuary:

“Many people have experienced the love, companionship, and joy of sharing their home and lives with an animal such as a dog or cat. Those of us that have enjoyed the rich experience of spending time in the company of goats understand that these animals—
and all animals used for dairy and meat production—are just as sensitive, loving, and capable of suffering pain as our beloved companion animals.

They enjoy playing head-butting games with each other, jumping on rock piles, and reaching up for fruit tree branches on their hind legs. When visitors take walks around the farm, the goat herd follows along, every step of the way. The tamest goats like to cuddle and one young goat named Freddy even sits on laps.”

Mary Kay held by Laurelee Blanchard, Director - Leilani Farm Sanctuary. 
Mary Kay was rescued after hunters killed her mother.
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary

It is estimated that there are more than a thousand farm sanctuaries or care farms in Europe while their numbers are growing in the US. That day will come when there will be more care farms than factory farms and backyard butchers combined. That day will also come when there will be no care farms on this Earth because there will be no factory farms and such. That will be the ultimate Victory Day.

Betty (mother goat), Annie & Danny (Betty's kids), and Gary (chicken). Betty was pregnant with Danny and Annie when she was liberated from a man who was going to continue breeding her and selling her offsprings. Gary was purchased as a hatchling from someone who wanted an egg-laying hen. They discarded Gary when it became apparent that he was a rooster.               
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary
 
We end this section with a quote from The Goat Sanctuary:
“At the end of the day, when the water buckets are filled and the racks stuffed with hay, the farm is filled with the sound of munching. But if you walk through the yard at 1am, the sound of overwhelming contentment fills the night. Peep over a stable door and you're met with the sight of a family curled up in a corner gently cuddling. Safe and secure.... looking forward to tomorrow.
The centuries have produced an animal that offers mankind unreserved trust, love and respect.... it's sad that mankind does not always return it or deserve it!”

~x~x~x~


Goat “sacrifice” in India

This essay is incomplete without mentioning the superstition that involves “sacrificing” goats in India. Goats are among the most used animals for sacrificial rituals. Perhaps because they are so trusting of humans. What is the logic behind animal sacrifice? There is definitely a linear logic – a simple, alarming logic that in one sweep strips human beings of all humanness. “I offer you the blood of this animal, bear me a child in return.” “I offer you the headless bodies of these many animals which I shall later give away in charity, in return wash away all the sins I have committed through the year.” “Bring me wealth, I satisfy you with the limbs of this animal.” All animal sacrifice is done to gain favors from or to appease God or a deity.

A great lot has been written on animal sacrifice – about its history and its psychology. Very interestingly, there is no proper documentation on the “benefits” of animal sacrifice say in the form of “testimonials”, for example!! “How did dragging the animal to the kill place—that animal who trusted you all these days—and beheading the animal at the altar of their Creator benefit you?” No, none, there is no testimonial. Rather, there are detailed sermons on how and why to prohibit children from witnessing the act or how to answer children’s queries on animal sacrifice or how to prohibit close contact of the children from the “sacrificial” animal lest the children develop a bond with the animal! 

Children are known to be “pure” consciousness, if they find animals being “sacrificed” unsettling, then, there is something fundamentally wrong with the logic of the practice. Dr. Krishnaiyengar Varadarangan, in his essay, Veganism and Spirituality on this blog space aptly notes:

“Animal sacrifice in the name of God is one of the most heinous, disgusting, and absurd acts that one can ever imagine. Animal sacrifice amounts to murdering and then offering the corpse of the butchered animal to the creator Herself! What an irony! What gross ignorance! What shame! She is the creator, the mother, of every one of us, including the animals. How can we offer a butchered child to its own mother? What will the mother think of us? We call her mother, then kill her own baby and even worse, expect her to consume it!

Sacrifice means surrendering ourselves to the supreme force in all humility. We need to surrender our ego, selfishness, greed, hatred, and arrogance and not the lives of hapless animals over which we have absolutely no right of ownership. Cruelty to animals is indeed a grave crime. In what way is killing an animal different from the murder of a human being?”

To know in detail about animal sacrifice in India, how and what perpetrates the crime, you can read this report from the BWC, India archives. The hopeful news is that many organizations and individuals in India are working to stop animal sacrifice from taking place. With the complicity of vested interests, it is an uphill task; however, with the passing of each year, success stories are also pouring in.


Afterword

Writing an afterword in an essay that profiles an animal is the most difficult part. How do you end it? What do you say? Without judging? Without sounding preachy? With all humbleness we want to help bring attention to the fact that many of us have seen goats wandering through cityscapes, contentedly picking at the grass beneath their feet…. imagine the day when they would be loaded inside trucks on their first and last journey on a vehicle to be “delivered” to butcher shops and slaughterhouses. These sights have become common in our cityscapes, haven’t they. If we pause the engine of our vehicles, we will hear cries from within these trucks, they may be cries of discomfort or maybe cries in mourning each other’s imminent death, whatever they are, these are feeble cries, yet too deafening to ignore, which the city’s traffic seems to consume most of the times…. of these gentle animals made by the same Creator who made you and me. Imagine headless corpses hanging upside down hooked to the front of butcher shops. These too have become part of our cityscapes. A single question arises in the mind, was all of this necessary for the biryani or kebab on our plates? 

~x~x~x~


PS: The average life-expectancy of a goat is usually 15-18 years; however all goats raised for meat and are slaughtered between 3 months to 1 year of age and those for milk – until their bodies wear off and can no longer bear the forced pregnancies.


Acknowledgements

This blog is grateful to the following for permitting us to use content from their online resources:

  • ~Laurelee Blanchard, Director, Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Laurelee received the Vegan of the Year – 2012 award by VegansAreCool.com.
  • ~Barbara Jamison, Founder, Puget Sound Goat Rescue
  • ~Cheryl, Founder, The Goat Sanctuary


You can also read an essay profiling the chicken in this blog post, The Chicken Story Retold.




Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dr. Melanie Joy Announces Launch of Groundbreaking Organization




  Changing the Way We Think About Eating Animals





Dr. Melanie Joy Announces Launch of Groundbreaking Organization

It is with great enthusiasm that I announce the launch of Carnism Awareness and Action Network (CAAN). CAAN’s mission is to raise awareness of and challenge carnism, the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals, and it will act as a hub of international carnism awareness activity. CAAN is the very first organization to focus exclusively on the psychological and social underpinnings of eating animals, making it a pioneering and landmark institution.

Carnism is a violent, oppressive system that causes widespread animal exploitation as well as human victimization. However, the vast majority of consumers of animals, who care about animals and their own wellbeing, are unaware of the consequences of carnism on themselves and their world. At CAAN, we believe that people need and deserve to know the truth about carnism so they can make their food choices freely – because without awareness, there is no free choice.

We have reason to be extremely optimistic about CAAN’s potential to help bring about powerful and lasting change for all beings, humans and nonhumans alike. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to carnism awareness around the world, and CAAN’s approach to targeting the problem of farmed animal and human exploitation is innovative and unique. CAAN is the first organization to:

  • focus on not only the practice of animal agriculture, but on the roots of this practice – the belief system that enables animal agriculture. More specifically, CAAN targets the very foundation of the belief system: the social and psychological defense mechanisms that maintain carnism.

  • frame eating animals as not simply a matter of personal ethics, but as the inevitable end result of an oppressive “ism.” Thus, CAAN seeks to demonstrate that eating animals is a social justice issue and to help put the vegan movement on the map of social justice movements.

  • focus on not only individual outreach, but on direct institutional change. CAAN is the first organization whose infrastructure is constructed to systematically and strategically target institutionalized oppression, challenging the institutions that validate animal agriculture. CAAN will host and support Carnism Awareness Task Forces (CATFs), groups of professionals working together to raise awareness of and challenge carnism within their fields, thus transforming the system from within.

  • provide not only practical and strategic support, but also psychological support to advocates working to transform the system, thus reducing the likelihood of recidivism and burnout among advocates.

If CAAN’s efforts are successful, we will help dramatically change the way society thinks and talks about the issue of eating animals and bring about a powerful shift in public consciousness.

I hope you will take a few moments to peruse our site, which includes resources to educate the public about carnism, materials to help activists spread the word about carnism, information about my international carnism awareness speaking tour, and up-to-date information about the global spread of carnism awareness.

Please help us spread the word about CAAN. Post about CAAN on your social media sites, share this announcement in your organizational newsletters, write about CAAN on your blogs, and forward this email widely.

If you are a media professional, you can be of particular support. Please take a moment to look at our Press page, which offers useful materials for the media, and contact me if you would like to set up an interview about CAAN.

Thank you for all you do to help create a more humane and just society for all beings.


In peace and solidarity,


Melanie Joy

~~~~~~~~~~




For a conversation with Dr. Melanie Joy on this blog about her book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, And Wear Cows, you can click this link.





Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Chicken Story Retold


To Alice

So many times
Choosing, buying, basting, seasoning, chewing, swallowing
Pieces of those like you

Here you come walking right to me
You come for comfort and company

Imagine that
After all those like me treated you cruelly
You still carry your hefty body to me
You reach out to me
You wriggle close to me
You wrap your head around my neck
You fall asleep in my arms
Wheezing and sighing heavily
Not made to breathe comfortably
But to be wrapped in cellophane for dinner tables

Thinking of these things
While I hold you
And you rest
Causes my cheeks to dampen

If only they could see you
And feel for you
And know you

-Poem by Susan Rayfield, written in memory of Alice, a rescued broiler hen living in the United Poultry Concerns sanctuary. (source)


Part I: The basic premise of this story

If we recall the portrayal of chickens in children’s storybooks, we will remember those richly illustrated books to amuse and engage children. While in some, the chickens are part of endearing animal gangs making mischief or adventure; in others, they are part of “happy” farms with charming pictures; and in still others, they are falsely anthropomorphized to the point of compromising with their basic rights. Most stories have a “morale” for the children, not so much about the rights of the chicken. Why do we mention children’s storybooks? Because indoctrination begins from them. While the part about chickens being “happy” and “endearing” is a fact, unless the farm is a sanctuary, the farms are nowhere close to being “happy” for the birds.

~~~~

The basic premise of the human rights theory is that human beings have certain rights and that means the state has some obligations to ensure that people enjoy these rights. This includes basic rights such as the right to life, liberty, speech, expression, religion, participation in decision-making, equality, education, health, and housing. However, some conditions prevent some people from exercising these rights or enjoying them. For example, female infants are still killed in many parts of the country although the Constitution gives the right to equality to all women. Colored people are still discriminated against in many parts of the world. At the root of these unfair, contrived social attitudes are patriarchal and racist mindsets.

Speciesism is the equivalent to patriarchy and racial segregation and was first used in the 1970s to describe the discrimination practiced against nonhuman animals. For example, speciesist attitudes prevent us from perceiving the chicken to have the basic right to life. Chickens stuffed in small cages outside butcher shops seen in the lanes and bylanes of the country does not move many of us. While selecting a living chicken outside a butcher shop to be cut up into a meal, our thoughts do not dwell on what the chicken may be thinking at that moment; whether the bird’s marble-like, glassy eyes are “seeing” us at all; what the cries, hysterical flapping of the wings indicate as the bird is pulled out from the cage held by the neck; and so on. We even fail to note that the chicken did not walk to her death in eagerness to become our meal – we did not note the blatant coercion in the act. Our sense to empathize with the chicken is completely shut as we have never been indoctrinated to perceive the chicken as a sentient being with unique mannerisms. Chickens lay eggs for us and give us meat, is all that we know about the chicken. In this sense, the chicken is our property, a commodity whose flesh and eggs we can buy with money and so, we have the right to use the bird as we please.

Some of us intuitively sense the wrongness and unethical nature of the act as part of a blessed process of aligning our energies with the benevolent Universal consciousness – that vast, formless reservoir of energy where each living being in this Universe is drawing sustenance from – with every draw and release of our breaths. This breath connects every living being to one another and in this sense, there is a part of each one of us within the chicken and a part of the chicken within us. This sense of interconnected consciousness bestows upon us the “awareness” that a chicken is not our property and exploiting a chicken for eggs and meat is an infringement over the chicken’s right to life and safety. However, some of us need evidence. It is fair that we educate ourselves about chicken sentience if we believe that the chicken is not a conscious being but rather a non-living entity like a chair or a table and so we are justified in objectifying them.


Part II: Perceiving chickens with a new lens

In the main part of this story, we will try and gain a fresh perspective of looking at the chicken with the help of studies done on the chicken under the evolving field of trans-species psychology. This field of psychology holds that nonhuman animals are mentally and emotionally comparable to humans in terms of their cognitive capacities and emotions; therefore it submits that animal cognition and emotions should be studied using the same models created to study human beings. Trans-species psychology employs scientific data collected from the fields of biology, physiology, neuroscience, ethology, and psychology; subjective data collected with the help of observations; and affective data collected through empathetic anthropomorphism to arrive at conclusions about animal cognition and emotions. Scientists working in this field have gathered evidence for all that we believed animals are incapable of such as the ability to feel pain, suffer bereavement, possess memory, display social behavior, empathize, form bonds, and so on.

According to the United Poultry Concerns (UPC) website, in a paper published in Nature Neuroscience Reviews in 2005, the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium which is an international group of scientists, presented the overwhelming evidence that a bird’s brain is a highly complex organ of which fully 75 percent “is an intricately wired mass that processes information in much the same way as the vaunted human cerebral cortex”. In light of this evidence, the Consortium called upon scientists around the world to adopt a new language to describe the various parts of the bird’s brain. This decree has led to many remarkable studies in avian intelligence. We must inform our readers at this point that a lot of the research cited in this story has been inspired by the extraordinary website, United Poultry Concerns, which contains a mine of information based on studies in trans-species psychology about our magnificent, fellow Earthlings – The Chicken.


~Their social behavior, emotional lives, and intelligence

Did we know that chickens could show sophisticated social behavior and were capable of complex reasoning comparable to that of a human child? Perhaps we did not; however, research has brought forth interesting data. According to Dr. Chris Evans, Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Australia:
“Chickens exist in stable social groups. They can recognize each other by their facial features. They have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth of information to one other, including separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is traveling by land or sea. They are good at solving problems. As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys. Perhaps most persuasive is the chicken’s intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, nevertheless continues to exist. This is beyond the capacity of small children.” (source)
Some among the 24 distinct cries are documented in this article entitled, Chicken Talk by Dr. Karen Davis, animal rights advocate, author, and President of UPC.

Dr. Lesley J. Rogers, avian specialist and Professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University of New England, Australia in her book, The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken, writes that the chicken has:
“….a complex nervous system designed to form a multitude of memories and to make complex decisions.” (p.218). “With increased knowledge of the behaviour and cognitive abilities of the chicken has come the realization that the chicken is not an inferior species to be treated merely as a food source.” (p.213) (source)
At times, we use the expressions, “bird brain” and “chickenhearted” after the chicken as an insult to a human counterpart to convey the lack of intelligence and courage, respectively. Research data suggests otherwise and indicates that such interpretations are based on our perceptions formed from little or no knowledge about chickens.

The rescued chickens day 1: Hens, scared and sick
Observations also indicate that chickens bond with one another, protect each other, and have empathy for the other. Himani, a vegan friend from Mumbai who was involved in the rescue of six battered egg-laying hens while she was working at PETA, testifies this. Out of the six hens, one was especially weak. Himani observes on day two of the rescue:
“One hen would still barely come out of it.... when we would enter the room, they would all huddle around that one protectively. To the extent that there were times we could only see five of them, and we would get worried about the sixth. They would surround her and screech at us defiantly to keep us from coming closer. We figured she must be very sick and that the others were trying to protect her at all times.”
The rescued chickens day 2: Swellings and rashes
The mystery of the “sick” hen is solved on day four of the rescue, as Himani observes:
“This morning when I entered the room there was a surprise. We found an egg in one of the cages! And the sick bird sitting with it while another one hovered around the entrance of the box protectively. We were just not prepared for this, and were relieved to realize that this was the reason the other birds were behaving so strangely. Somehow, seeing the egg made the whole event so much more personal. She was going to die while she had an egg developing in her womb, it was a disquieting moment for all of us.”
Every day, millions of chickens helplessly watch as their counterparts are killed in full view of each other. They are unable to protect one another causing them much fear and stress.

The rescued chickens day 3: Walking around, eating
Speaking of motherly and fatherly care and protection, mother hens protect their young ones from predators with the help of their wings – frantically flapping them to scare off the source of the danger or tenderly spreading them out to bring comfort and safety to their chicks. The roosters too have a role in bringing up young ones as they sit guard over the flock and alert the hens if they sense danger. Plutarch, who was deeply influenced by Pythagoras’ view of non-violence towards animals, writes this about the hens:
“What of the hens whom we observe each day at home, with what care and assiduity they govern and guard their chicks? Some let down their wings for the chicks to come under; others arch their backs for them to climb upon; there is no part of their bodies with which they do not wish to cherish their chicks if they can, nor do they do this without a joy and alacrity which they seem to exhibit by the sound of their voices.”
The rescued chickens day 4: Looking better....

Not only their own species, chickens are also affectionate towards humans. They form bonds with humans if they are talked to by making direct eye contact. Dr. Karan Davis, in her essay, The Social Life of Chickens, writes:
“Chickens represented by the poultry industry as incapable of friendship with humans have rested in my lap with their eyes closed as peacefully as sleeping babies, and as I have noted, they quickly learn their names. A little white hen from the egg industry named Karla became so friendly, all I had to do was call out “Karla!” and she would break through the other hens and head straight toward me, knowing she’d be scooped off the ground and kissed on her sweet face and over her closed eyes.”
The rescued chickens day 4: ....and fluffy with a little care

Chickens also have memory; they miss the absence of their counterparts. They update their memory too. According to research, they can remember more than a 100 other chickens and recognize them. In the same essay, The Social Life of Chickens, Dr. Karan Davis writes:
“I’ve watched many a returning hen be greeted by her own flock members led by the rooster walking over and gathering around her conversably, as if they were saying to her, “Where have you been?” and “How are you?” and “We’re glad you’re back.”
(This essay is being published this year as a chapter in the forthcoming book, Experiencing Animals: Encounters Between Animal and Human Minds published by Columbia University Press.)

~Their personalities

Chickens not only have personalities as a subspecies of the Red Jungle Fowl of South East Asian forests that they are, each chicken has a distinct personality and unique ways of expressing themselves. Observations pouring in from the many people who have rescued or lived with chickens highlight the fact that no two chickens are alike in their response to the same stimuli. We especially quote once more from Himani’s account, which shows that even in coming out of a traumatic past, each of the six egg-laying hens had a distinct manner of adjusting and expressing themselves while making sense of the new world – a world quite the opposite of the cruelty they had known until that point.

Himani: Santa for the rescued hens
Himani, recounting day four and five with her rescued hens narrates:
“One would throw attitude, she would come to the door when we walked in, look us up and down and walk away in a huff like she had seen it all and it was just so boring. There were two who were forever panicking and clucking, and one who was adorably shy, she would hide behind the boxes and peep out from there. The remaining two were simply funny and had to investigate everything they could get to.
Of my favorites, Ms. Curiosity 1 [Ms. C1] was a tough cookie. After having endured all the pain of being in a cage for two years, being dragged around by her legs and being thrown for dead by people, this spunky bird was still keen on figuring everything out. Since the third day itself, when all the other birds were still terrified of us, she would try to come close to me. Looking duly uninterested of course, she would pretend to peck food and slowly walk toward me. The slightest movement from me would cause her to panic and run back to the safety of her group, but then in a few minutes she would be back.
[Day five, the day of the first outing] When I entered the room, my friend Ms. C1 came up to me to greet me quite confidently, and when I opened the door to the garden she was the first to step out. She went out inspected everything, came back to the room and crowed loudly. The others then slowly started taking the chance of stepping out. They were in natural sunlight and space for the first time in their lives. Most of them just froze with uncertainty…. some went right back in. Two stayed out and started exploring the area. The sick hen also started to hesitatingly come out and had taken to hiding behind me when she felt threatened…. Some would just take a few steps in, some would walk all around and peck away at the feed bowls of the cats. Ms. C1 would actually go from table to table, check each person out from head to toe…. then walk away making clucking sounds.”
 To read Himani’s full account of the rescue, you can click the two images below.

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Six Days and Six Egg-laying Hens
(Please click the images a second time for an enlarged view.)

                                                  


~Their capacity to feel physical pain

In his paper, Pain in Birds, Dr. Michael Gentle writes:
“Comparing pain in birds with mammals, it is clear that, with regard to anatomical, physiological, and behavioural parameters measured, there are no major differences and therefore the ethical considerations normally afforded to mammals should be extended to birds.” (p.235, source)
When asked whether poultry animals feel pain, Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor of Poultry Ethology, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada had this to say:
“It is indisputable that poultry are capable of feeling pain. All poultry species are sentient vertebrates and all the available evidence shows that they have a very similar range of feelings as mammalian species. Poultry can suffer by feeling pain, fear and stress.” (source)
Chickens have pain receptors, thermo-receptors, and physical-impact receptors very similar to us that cause them to feel distress of all kinds. Dr. Gentle who performed the “comb pinch test” on chickens report them to show “active avoidance behavior…. and vigorous escape attempts involving jumping, wing flapping, and occasionally calling.” (source). Chickens raised for their flesh and eggs have their beaks and feathers full of sensory nerves severed with hot blades to prevent them from pecking each other and flapping their wings.


~Their need to live naturally

Some of the normal day-to-day activities of chickens that they have evolved to perform include sunning, dust bathing, pecking, scratching, and nesting. They sunbath for general health, dust bath for the health of their feathers, peck to express myriad emotions, scratch to comb the ground for food, and nest to lay eggs. These activities are severely impeded when chickens are confined within cages. Inside cages they live lives just as humans implicated for crimes in dank prison cells do, except that they have committed no crime.

Their beaks, which are just like our hands and contain a high concentration of sensory receptors, are mutilated to prevent them from pecking each other. Without any space to move within the crammed cages, that is the only way they can put their pecking instinct to use. They are never able to use their wings that were meant to be flapped. An egg-laying chicken that was meant to live for at least 7-20 years (source) withers at two, while the lives of chickens for meat are abruptly cut short as soon as they gain full plume, which is around six weeks.

If Nature meant for us to eat them and use them as egg-producing machines, why should their natural life span be so much more longer?   


Part III: The dark truths

Most of us know how our fruits, vegetables, and grains are produced. The fields and the orchards are open for us to see and visit. However, it is not the same with the animal products industry. You only see the end product that the manufacturer wants to sell to you – attractively packaged with pictures of “happy” animals and with the goat and sheep disguised as “mutton”, the pig disguised as “pork”, the cow disguised as “beef”. But the poor chicken, the most abused animal on Earth today, is thought nothing of, the advertisers don’t even feel the need to disguise them – they are simply called the “chicken” after the name of their species while demand is created for their body parts in terms of “fried chicken wings”, “succulent chicken legs”, “tender chicken breasts”, and so on. 


~The broiler chicken

The “broiler chicken”, a concept from the West, has gained credence in India backed by huge advertising budgets. The ads. sell death with the promise of health and taste, and the tragedy is many of us buy in.

For some facts, broiler chickens are actually baby chickens exclusively raised for meat in very controlled (read unnatural) environments. The muscle tissues of their breasts and thighs are genetically manipulated to yield more “meat”. With the growth hormones that they are fed, the birds become so “breast-heavy” that they cannot stand on their two legs. To prevent them from dying since their heart and lungs cannot support their body weight, they are fed antibiotics. The birds in the broiler farms suffer from lameness, gastrointestinal and blood diseases, and chronic respiratory infections (source).

Michael Specter, writer of New Yorker, on his first visit to a chicken farm in April 14, 2003 writes:
“I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe…. There must have been thirty thousand chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way.” (source)
As Mr. Specter had experienced on his first visit to a chicken farm lasting a few minutes, the atmosphere in the dark warehouses where the chickens are housed is poisoned with ammonia fumes. As a result, many chickens are afflicted by a blinding disease called ammonia burn. In these filthy warehouses ridden by many infections and with no space to move, the chicken’s cognitive and emotional capabilities are severed by breaking every connection that the bird’s body has to feel and make sense of the external environment. No wonder that they sit in darkness “like statues”; they could be thinking a hundred different things, shall we ever know.

The chickens are typically kept in the warehouse in these conditions for 35-45 days after which they are sent to be killed at your neighborhood chicken shops as “fresh” chicken or killed with state-of-the-art technology (read death machines) to be converted into pre-packed nuggets, salami, sausages, and so on. FreeBetty.com, a website devoted to raising awareness about chicken suffering writes about the first and last journey of the broiler chicken. These and other methods employed to use and eventually kill the chicken will often be termed as “industry best practices”:
“The broiler chicken's first glimpse of the outside world will be as she is trucked for slaughter. Her last glimpse of the world will be hanging upside down with her feet shackled in metal stirrups attached to a moving conveyor belt. Her head will be drawn through an electrified water bath to stun her unconscious before an automatic knife cuts her throat. Some birds are not so ‘lucky’. Those who raise their heads and miss the electrified water bath face the throat cutting machine fully conscious.” (source)
Virgil Butler, a former chicken slaughterhouse worker in Grannis, Arkansas testifies the final moments.
“The chickens hang there (on the conveyer belts moving towards the killing knife) and look at you while they are bleeding. They try to hide their head from you by sticking it under the wing of the chicken next to them on the slaughter line. You can tell by them looking at you, they’re scared to death.” (source)
And, as we started out saying at the beginning of this section, these atrocities are no longer a “western country phenomenon”. They are happening right here in our country because of our uninformed and misinformed choices, and our general apathy.

 
~The egg-laying chicken

Research in trans-species psychology has shown that the egg-laying activity is an “extremely important and private part of a chicken’s life”. Under normal circumstances, as the hens prepare the eggs, the roosters guard them and bring them food from time to time. However, in the commercial egg industry nothing remotely of this sort happens.

The egg-laying hens are crammed in small cages with several of them together for around two years. Their hand-like beaks are severed so that they cannot peck each other out of frustration. There they sit in their own feces or feces that fall on their heads from the cages above, subjected to ejecting eggs one after the other – many more than they would have under natural circumstances and in an utterly disrespectful manner. Observations have revealed that hens lay eggs in private and forcing them to lay eggs under the conditions described above goes against their dignity. It is just like how human dignity will be compromised if they were forced to defecate in front of one another (ethologist Konrad Lorenz).

If your egg producer tells you that your eggs are “free-range” or “cage-free”, it simply means that the chickens are not crammed in cages but are instead crammed in closed warehouses with cemented floor and less than a square foot of space for each. All these conditions, whether free-range or not, lead them to suffer from uterine prolapse and osteoporosis and this in turn leads to a slow, painful death (source). Again, whether free-range or not, the only time these hens ever breathe fresh air is when they are loaded to be transported for slaughter following decline in egg production.

In this entire process of laying eggs, there are no roosters to guard the to-be-mother hens and bring them food. Instead, the hens are starved so that the industry can manipulate the eggs and market prices (source).


~The missing male chick from the egg industry

The male chicks are unwanted byproducts of the egg industry as they have no commercial value. Unwanted, so they are killed almost immediately after they peep out from their mother’s eggs. The sex of the chicks are sorted on a conveyer belt and the males are tossed into gas chambers (source). In some other facilities, they may also be electrocuted, crushed alive, or simply thrown into trashcans to slowly suffocate to death (source).

If Nature meant the chicks to experience the warmth of their mother’s wings as soon as they are born, what is happening here?

A part of the human race had experienced something similar decades ago in the concentrations camps of the Second World War. Upon arrival at the camps, they had been sorted into different categories of convenience; infant children had been taken away from the arms of their mothers to be gassed separately.     


Part IV: Afterword

According to the ancient spiritual texts of our land, a human being takes on the karma of the animal they eat. This resonates with the famous saying, “you are what you eat”. This does not mean we start looking like an abused chicken, grow mutilated beaks and clipped wings if we eat them, it simply means that in eating chickens we assimilate their pain, misery, and suffering within our own bodies. Their flesh and eggs containing cellular memories of the agonies of de-beaking; confinement; being tramped, gassed, crushed; bereavement…. are absorbed within us. Their eggs and flesh contains all the stress and fear hormones released by the dying birds. How these hormones adversely affect us physically besides negatively influencing our stock load of karmas, forms a well-documented body of medical research today. At the broadest level, the same sentiment had been articulated by genius Mathematician, Pythagoras two thousand years ago in ancient Greece. He had said, “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love”.

While many people in the world today have stopped eating chickens and their eggs for spiritual and ethical reasons, many have done so for health reasons. But that is not enough. Chickens continue to be the most mistreated and disrespected among the birds at this point of time on this Earth, abused by us – the self-conferred “most intelligent” species on Earth. How intelligent are we if we are unable to empathize with another sentient being? Do we not want to empathize with the chicken because if we do, it will conflict with our interests of what we want to do with them? Deep down, do we fear that empathizing will stop us from maltreating them?

Dr. Will Tuttle, the author of the bestseller, World Peace Diet, shares a profound message in our conversation with him on this space:
“I would encourage you not to be seduced by the mechanistic immaturity of the West, and especially not to adopt the cruel food practices of the West. I would encourage you to remember your glorious heritage of compassion and cooperation, to remember Asoka and other enlightened examples of kindness for all, and to strive to live the teaching of ahimsa and continue to make India the light of sanity and harmony in the world.”
We rest our case and end the story with a final quote from Charles Darwin whose work in evolutionary biology has inspired many trans-species psychologists in the modern age:
“There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties…. The lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.”
~~~~

Acknowledgements

This blog is grateful to:

  • ~Dr. Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns (UPC), for sharing her invaluable inputs for this story and permitting us to use content from the UPC website.
  • ~Himani Shetty, vegan, animal rights activist from India, for sharing her stunning account of the rescue of six egg-laying hens. Himani received the Vegan of the Year – 2012 award by Indian Vegan Society.
  • ~Surya Ranjan Shandil, high-end software technology developer and, hobby painter and graphic artiste from India, for his sensitive portrait of the chicken.
  • ~All the scientists working in the field of trans-species psychology for caring to study and make inferences about the cognitive capacities and emotional lives of animals.

References

Compassion Over Killing
Free Betty
Friends of Animals
United Poultry Concerns

Recommended books

Prisioned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs by Karen Davis
The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken by Lesley J. Rogers
The Holocaust and the Henmaids’ Tale by Karen Davis

If you are someone who feels their hearts wrench when you see chickens cooped up in cages outside butcher shops; or tied by their feet upside down being transported on a scooter, motorbike, or a cycle; or you feel unable to look the chickens in the eye, then know that your reaction is “normal”. Your prana is beseeching you to attune to the Universal Life Force energy. Please help sharpen this tuning by taking the pledge to go Vegan.

You can also read an essay profiling the goat in this blog post, Of the Goat: Gentle and Trusting.