By John Di Leonardo
Every year, my organization Humane Long Island answers calls to rescue roosters. Sometimes, they’ve saved themselves from slaughter, escaping a live slaughter market or a slaughterhouse-bound truck. Other times, they’re tied with ribbons, signifying that they were intended to be sacrificed. But most often, they’ve simply been abandoned to the wild for the crime of being born male.
Most people may be surprised to learn that red jungle fowl —the wild variety of chickens — weigh little more than a pound and naturally lay only about 10 to 15 eggs a year in a single clutch. Native to India and Southern Asia, they lack adequate feathering to survive Northern climates and cannot defend themselves against North American predators. Like other farmed animals, domestic chickens have been inbred for thousands of years to rid them of wild instincts and flight capability while also giving them characteristics detrimental to their health but favorable to the agribusiness industry.
Chickens raised for their flesh, called “broilers” by the agribusiness industry, are prone to morbid obesity, while hens raised for their eggs, called “layers”, may lay more than 300 eggs in a single year, and the stress on their reproductive systems is often fatal. Chickens can live to be more than 10 years old, however, “broilers” are killed when they’re still babies – only six to eight weeks old – and still peeping. With medical treatment exceeding the cost of an egg, most “layers” are killed or left to languish when their egg production slows after the first 2 years, and some are even abandoned to public parks and sumps where they succumb to predators or the elements. With many buyers not realizing that chicks won’t be mature enough to lay eggs for six months after purchase, some hens are abandoned before they even lay a single egg.
Roosters are excellent husbands and fathers, keeping a watchful eye over their families and defending them against perceived aggressors. Unfortunately, their protective nature is often misunderstood, and this combined with the fact they cannot lay eggs, causes roosters to often be abandoned as soon as their gender is revealed. This issue is compounded by their crowing, which makes them unwelcome in most urban — and even many suburban — environments.
While roosters are doting and fierce protectors of their flock, domestic chickens — like domestic ducks — have been bred to have large bodies and small wings, and most are unable to fly away from predators. In most cases, their naturally large spurs have been bred out of them, taking away their last line of defense as well.
If taking away their defenses, natural instincts, and flight ability were not cruel enough, many times people even try to take away roosters’ voices, utilizing Velcro straps called “crow collars” in usually futile attempts to silence male birds. Not only are these straps uncomfortable, but they can even asphyxiate birds or prevent them from eating appropriately. Often, roosters are still wearing these cruel collars when we rescue them from abandonment.
If one has ever tried to observe a vow of silence – as Mahavira is said to have observed for 12 twelve years – they know how difficult this can be. Now imagine being forced to do this, not of your own accord or for spiritual enlightenment, but against your own will.
For this week’s Anuvrat, I urge you to make a vow NEVER to be silent when it comes to the plight of vulnerable populations, whether they be chickens, people with special needs, or children, and to remember that the kindest thing we can do for animals is simply not to eat them, their eggs, or their secretions.
John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Humane Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected].