United Poultry Concerns
16 November 2011
University of Maryland Journalism Major, Alexis Gutter, Covers Hair Fashion Feathers Cruelty Campaign by United Poultry Concerns
Students & salons respond to learning feathers are obtained from abused
roosters; rooster killing company Whiting Farms cites “negative press”

Alexis Gutter
Trend Story
University of Maryland College Park
November 8, 2011

Last spring, following the leads of Aerosmith front man, Steven Tyler, and pop music artist, Kesha, young women began attaching feather extensions to their hair.

By mid-summer, trend demand surpassed stray feather supply, so farms that sell fly-fishing tyers began killing more roosters to fill the orders of their new, unexpected market: fashion.

Whiting Farms, a leading supplier for fly-fishing feathers located in Colorado, became a leading supplier for hair feathers. Now, the farm kills as many as 1,500 roosters per week just for their backside feathers, said Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, a non-profit organization addressing the treatment of domestic fowl.

“They’re just taking five or six feathers, then trashing them,” Davis said.

In a statement to United Poultry Concerns, Whiting Farms President Thomas Whiting wrote that it is the market that necessitates killing the roosters after extracting just the few, valuable feathers.

“What are desired by fly tyers and fashion folks alike are the ‘first nuptial’ feathers that the roosters grow (their ‘breeding plumage’), and subsequent sets of feathers are not as good,” Whiting wrote.

After these initial feathers are plucked, the farm humanely euthanizes the roosters, as “there is no distress or blood,” Whiting wrote.

But Davis said that “anyone claiming to ‘humanely euthanize’ roosters is just using animal cruelty rhetoric for gassing with carbon dioxide. It’s not humane at all,” She said.

The carbon dioxide used to gas the roosters does cause panic, breathlessness and distress to the suffocating birds, Davis said.

While Whiting declined to comment as his assistant said “he is reluctant to speak about the issue after receiving such negative press,” he wrote in his statement to United Poultry Concerns that the roosters of the farm, who remain in individual cages after free-range experiments were an “unmitigated disaster,” seem perfectly happy.

“If they weren’t content, they wouldn’t grow the beautiful feathers,” Whiting wrote.

While Davis hopes the feather extension fad fades as quickly as it exploded, she said a way to achieve the trend tapering is through education.

“I would like to think that as people become more educated, they wouldn’t want them anymore,” Davis said. “It seems like nobody really knows how these feathers are being obtained.”

Among the college female demographic, Davis’ hunch shows evidence to truth.

“Is that for real?” Senior Communications major Monica Karkhanis asked in response to learning the feather source. “That’s definitely information that would make me even less likely to contribute to the trend. They’re cute, but not cute enough to be killing animals.”

Junior Kinesiology major Amanda Erb agreed, though she also used to don a feather after she saw Kesha “rock it.”

“I mean, I’m not much of an animal activist, and I feel like roosters aren’t very endangered, but it’s really unnecessary to kill for a fad,” Erb said.

Some local salons are starting to sympathize.

Camille Richardson, receptionist at Alchemy Salon in Silver Spring, was in charge of finding and ordering feathers between May and July, the brief time the salon offered them.

“After that, we couldn’t get the feathers anymore because everyone was selling out,” Richardson said. “We tend to be a very green salon and don’t want to be involved in using feathers from killed birds.”

Richardson said that since the salon has discontinued its stock of feathers, a handful of customers have brought in their own, which she believes were purchased at bait shops.

Sarah Bailey, a sales representative at Angler’s, an Annapolis hunting and fishing supply store, said she has noticed the trend picking up.

“One lady who came in recently said she was from a hair salon and bought quite a few feathers,” Bailey said.

Courtney Pelletier, manager of K. Co Design Salon and Day Spa in Baltimore, said that for the six months her salon has been offering the extensions, she regularly finds herself out of stock, but has not noticed customers bringing in their own feathers.

While K. Co is often out of authentic feathers, it also offers a cheaper, synthetic feather, which Pelletier said has been popular with younger girls lately.

Davis said that synthetic feathers are an acceptable alternative to the otherwise inhumane trend, which appeals to a “vanity that can easily be duplicated with non-animal materials.”

“People don’t want feathers from animals being killed,” Pelletier said. “We don’t really agree with it either.”

Davis said that once people are informed about the process of obtaining the feathers, they should be morally bound to stop perpetuating the trend, if not help the movement to combat it.

“Raising and killing roosters for mere cosmetic purposes shows a lack of empathy and respect for living creatures, especially since these birds are being born and caged merely to be killed for nothing but profit and vanity.” Davis said.

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