The September 2006 issue of the Washingtonian (Washingtonian.com) has a 12-page article on the Delmarva chicken industry located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. In “42-Day Wonders,” journalist Tom Horton describes how chickens are raised for slaughter in 42 days. The article, which has photos of the birds’ life from hatchery chicken sexing to slaughter, includes the following paragraphs about United Poultry Concerns with a photo of UPC president Karen Davis holding our lame and stalwart “broiler” rooster, Chesterbuddy:
“There’s a lonely counterpoint to the efficiency of America’s poultry prowess located near Machipongo, Virginia, just down the road from two of Delmarva’s biggest processing plants. In a small, sunny barnyard ringed with chicken coops, Karen Davis camps in the heart of enemy territory. Here for the last decade she has run her ‘sanctuary’ for escapees and discards from the poultry meat and egg industries – and borne witness on behalf of the chicken. She is founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, an animal rights group with 11,000 members. Last May UPC organized International Respect for Chickens Day ‘to celebrate the dignity, beauty, and life of chickens and to protest the bleakness of their lives in farming operations.’
“Of the modern chicken’s life, she says, ‘It doesn’t get any worse: raised in a dark, stinking world, no mothers, no sunshine, total terror of catching, killing . . . this is what we’ve done to a wild jungle fowl.’
“A PhD in English, she has written several books: Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs and The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities.
“Karen Davis is as wedded to her flock as Lou Ann Rieley [a chicken grower for Perdue and Allen poultry companies] is to her’s. The number of birds here has numbered as high as 123, but right now it’s about 85 – every one an individual. There’s Bonnie Brown and Rebecca, former caged egg layers, and Hamilton, a bantam-cochin mix with fancy feathered feet. Then there is Victor, a huge broiler rooster found and abandoned in a parking lot. Victor is Elvis in old age, though he’s not that old. His skeleton can’t support his bulk, and he quivers with the effort of just standing to eat. ‘It’s okay, it’s okay,’ Davis murmurs as she props him up. ‘Birds like this get old awful fast; they were never bred for the long run,’ she says. Should she euthanize him? ‘I can’t, as long as they can enjoy the food, the breeze, and the sun – and they have each other,’ she says, referring to Eloise and Amanda, two crippled broiler hens who seldom leave Victor’s side.
“It is remarkable, Davis says, how quickly the birds revert to nature despite being bred for generations to maximize egg or meat production: ‘They take dust baths, perch in trees, or try to, bathe in the sun, eat green grass, and socialize. Anyone who argues they are adapted to captivity in the modern broiler house should come here and watch how joyfully they rush outside each morning.’ She often cites the work of Australian avian researcher Lesley Rogers, who has devised experiments to test for intelligence in chickens and has written, ‘I am convinced chickens are not animals that should be kept in mentally and socially deprived conditions. They are as complex as the cats and dogs we share our homes with and should not be looked upon as bird brains.’”