Farm animals have had a rough go of it during the coronavirus, but this flock has been lucky enough to fly the coop.
Rescuers from the nonprofit Animal Place saved 1,000 hens last week from an Iowa egg farm that’s culling its flock as the pandemic roils the nation’s food supply chain.
Instead of being gassed as the coronavirus reportedly crushes demand for eggs, the hens are now getting their first taste of freedom at Animal Place’s northern California sanctuary. And the group is now working to find them new homes, according to executive director Kim Sturla.
“They’re actually doing pretty well considering what they’ve been through,” Sturla told The Post. “They’re starting to experience life as it should be for them.”
Although the coronavirus has resulted in meat and egg prices skyrocketing at the grocery store, US farmers have had to kill off healthy chickens and pigs as the pandemic temporarily shuttered slaughterhouses, resulting in an oversupply. Farms that sell to restaurants, which have closed en masse during crisis, have also been forced to dump cow’s milk and cull their herds.
Sturla declined to identify the Iowa farm where Animal Place conducted its rescue except to say that it was planning to shut down and gas most of its 140,000 chickens to death. Most had already been killed before the rescue, which Animal Place arranged with the farm, she said.
Instead, the group dispatched two staffers who drove 30 hours from California to pick up the hens with help from eight local volunteers. The lucky birds were packed into crates and loaded onto two chartered airplanes, paid for by a donor, for an eight-hour flight from Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Truckee, California, Animal Place said.
Iowa is the nation’s biggest egg producer with more than 57 million hens as of January 2019, US Department of Agriculture data show.
Many of the saved hens were “terribly weak” after spending most of their lives crammed in cages — but only one died during the rescue, Sturla said.
Animal Place expects to place 150 to 200 of the survivors for adoption by the end of this week into small “backyard flocks,” Sturla said. But they’re struggling to adjust to their newfound freedom, she said.
“They have access to outside as well as to their barns, but they’re too fearful to explore,” Sturla told The Post. “Space is a foreign concept and they’re fearful of it because they know nothing else but crammed conditions.”
Animal Place has carried out dozens of large-scale rescues but the Iowa operation was the first directly related to the coronavirus crisis, Sturla said.
Like other animal-rights advocates, she suggested that the culling caused by the pandemic is no more horrific than business as usual in the beleaguered meat industry.
“To me, the horror is the standard operating procedure,” Sturla said. “The horror is that we have to resort to such incredibly cruel processes for our food supply.”
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