Meet Taylor, the hen, my friend and confidante (on all things chicken, mainly). She is a singer, a crooner, a speaker on all subjects large and small. Who stole her nest box. Who is hanging out with Diablo the rooster when they were last seen with Newman. Who likes Ferdinand, even though he's kind of a jerk. Why Willow the turkey pecks at Joan Jett, the hen.
Everything is fair game.
Yesterday, Taylor sat on my lap. She trilled and grumbled at the rest of the birds. Here she was, on stage, ready to perform for all of her chicken peons. No one seemed to be paying much attention. She had mine, though. Eye contact, direct and forceful. A small connection. This was serious talk.
Arching her speckled neck, she reached up and tugged on a strand of hair, tug, yank, pull. Ouch! My yelp gave her pause and she cooed like a hen does to a miffed chick. It's a sweet sound, full of maternal love. When you hear this sound, do not keep up with your temper tantrum. A hen's maternal love lasts only so long, soon she will change her tone and reinforce her message with a swift peck to the head. I quickly got over the pain - she was giving me the "I will peck you if I have to" look. Mothers can be tough.
I have found Taylor's sweet spot. Reaching my fingers up, I scratch along both sides of her neck. Scratch, scratch, massage, scratch. Her eyes close, she makes these indescribably precious sounds. Happy! If she were a dog, she would be kicking her hind foot in wild abandon.
There is no denying Taylor's pleasure, no ignoring her contented sighs and clucks of appreciation. You do not need to be an expert on chickens to observe Taylor and see a being who thinks, feels, experiences the life around her.
The more you get to know another species, the harder it becomes to excuse their exploitation and abuse. Chickens are fascinating animals. Their world is sometimes unfathomable to me, but many times it's so obvious - friendship, trust, betrayal, hunger, love, altruism, fear, suffering, pain, joy. Their movements are not pointless reflexes, random responses to their environment. They think and plot and make decisions. Which makes their treatment on farms so painful. Nine billion.
24,600,000 killed every day. By the time you have read this sentence outloud, nearly 2,000 chickens - with unique personalities like Taylor's - have been slaughtered in the United States alone. They are not protected by federal slaughter laws. Some states exclude them from state slaughter laws. This means they can be killed fully conscious, no stunning required.
The numbers alone highlights their unbearable suffering. It is impossible to slaughter 24 million birds every day without stunning improperly, not fully killing birds before their still feeling bodies are dunked into electric baths or de-feathering machines. There are not 24 million slaughterhouses for each bird. They are killed by the tens of thousands in the few processing plants that exist solely to disassemble living, sentient animals.
Chickens are not dumb. They are not immune to pain. They are intelligent, emotional beings who can and do suffer. Their desires are not much different than yours - they want to live, seek out that which makes them happy, avoid pain, make friends, eat until they are full (and they like sugary sweets!), spend time with their family and loved ones.
We owe them. We have murdered them by the billions for decades. We owe them.
Please go vegan.