Thank you for all you do; you have changed me from a new and uncertain vegetarian to a strong and resourceful and most importantly joyful vegan! I am the other of two wonderful boys aged 27 months and 12 months; before and after I had them I sometimes became quite depressed at the idea that I had brought children into this world that was doomed by human greed and arrogance. I am now positive and joyful and I know that if I can bring my boys up with a solid vegan foundation in life then I will have succeeded as a parent even though, at some stage I will have to let them go into the world and choose their own path. At least, should they stray from veganism and then decide to return to it, the path back will be easy and familiar and not totally unfamiliar as it was for me and many others who were raised eating animals.
I too believe, as you have said so eloquently, that our violence against other human animals is rooted in our violence against other animals. Thus by bringing Zach and Caleb up with vegan values is two small but significant steps towards changing the world.
I became Vegan overnight at the beginning of this year. The catalyst was a series of small events – the biggest of which was watching “Meet your Meat” on the PETA website. My husband wasn’t as easily converted as I was; he was happy to stop eating red meat but still wanted to eat his favorite food which was chicken and especially Woolies Honey and Mustard Chicken thighs. His mother too was very obliging when I told her that we were going vegetarian and she said that she was happy to just cook us chicken! We have pet chickens at home – which neither of us would even consider eating and so, to make my point, I went to a live chicken (for meat) retailer close to our home to buy a chicken.
The public were not allowed in the shed the chickens were kept but as I was insistent that I wanted to choose my own chicken I was allowed in. I was directed by the man who was helping me to go down to the end of the shed and choose a bird from there. Although the chickens were raised for meat, they were all in battery type cages. Each cage probably measuring about 45 cm long by 30 cm deep and 30 cms high. There were 4 rows of cages on top of each other and of course all the excrement just fell down to the cages below. There were 4 or 5 birds to a cage; so small they couldn’t all stand up or lie down at the same time, let alone stretch out a wing or preen themselves. The birds had all had their beaks cut off, they had only a few feathers which were in terrible condition and the smell was terrible. Pretty much standard conditions for any chicken raised for its flesh or eggs world wide I believe.
As I was looking at all the birds the man helping me was making suggestions about which birds were nice and heavy. I explained to him that the chicken was going to be a pet and was not going to be eaten so didn’t need to be heavy. I chose a bird from the end cage that looked like she had given up. She was lying down at the back of the cage and just looked weary and broken like she had no fight left in her. When I told the man that I wanted her he said that no, she wasn’t a good choice and to illustrate why, he put her on the floor and pushed her with his foot and said because she doesn’t walk. I said that she didn’t need to walk and I was taking her. I was quite worried about her beak as the person who cut it off when she was only a day or two old had cut it crookedly, making the top of the beak longer than the bottom. Chickens beaks are like our fingers and I was worried that she wouldn’t be able to function in a normal environment with such a deformed one.
While walking back up the shed I asked why I had to choose from the end of the shed and I was told because that was where all the young, heavy birds were. The ones at the top of the shed were older and thin – the ones no-one wanted; I knew then that I’d be going home with 2 chickens. I asked how old they were and was told that the young ones were about 7 weeks and the older ones about 3 or 4 months! The hen I chose from the top of the shed was the opposite of the first one I chose. She was standing up at the front of her cage, her head pushed out between the bars as if straining for freedom. Her beak had also been cut off, giving her a pursed lips expression. The man helping me with the chickens was adamant that I shouldn’t buy her because, as he made me feel – she was feathers & skin & bone. The bones clearly palpable through her brittle feathers, the bones that I knew how they looked because of all the years I had eaten her kind – of which I was now so ashamed!
We got home in the early evening and all the chickens were settling down for the night. I let Honey and Mustard go at the stables with all the other chickens and then went inside to sort out the kids and dogs and cats and husband. I told my husband that we had two new additions – Honey and Mustard and next time he felt like his favorite chicken dish he could go down and have a look at them!
When I went down to the stables later Honey and Mustard had both gone to sleep in the piles of grass that are put in the stables for the horses. Honey in one stable and Mustard in the other, as far away from each other and the other chickens as possible as if to finally be able to sleep in peace; to actually be able to lie down at night! In a soft bed instead of steel mesh! Without jostling and bumping and pecking and squawking and fighting for food and water and space!
Over the next couple of days it was an absolute joy to watch Honey and Mustard begin to experience life. They walked around, felt the sun on their backs, scratched in the dirt, dipped their beaks in water to drink, pecked at seeds and insects and mud and grass and just anything that they could see or perhaps not see. They always stayed up late to experience as much as they could with each day; while all the other birds were in bed by 6, they were still up and about until 7. Honey was very quiet and gentle, she had quite a bad limp which concerned me as it wasn’t improving but she was happy. She rapidly developed a passion for grapes and would grab one from me and scurry off with it to eat in peace. Mustard was busy from the start, busy and clueless. She was always underfoot of humans, dogs and horses and would try and grab any food she could out of my toddlers tightly clenched fists. She would come running when she saw us and then would hang around determinedly until we went back inside. She would climb on your lap if you sat down, all the while talking continuously. Not clucking chicken sounds but a throaty purr as if she wanted to everyone close to her just how much fun she was having and how great life was!
It was wonderful to see the horses being so gentle with them, they would nose them gently and not move until the chickens were out of range of being squashed.
I took them both to the Vet when Honey’s limp hadn’t improved after about 4 days. He told me that Honey had a broken femur and that was why she limped. He said it was probably quite an old injury as it wasn’t that sore when he manipulated it. Just imagine, living in a cage full of pushing and jostling and bumping, not being able to lie down in peace – all with a broken leg. Mustard was just thin but otherwise healthy. My heart ached for Honey to think of the agony she endured, the days and weeks of suffering only because us humans have a taste for the seasoning we put on chicken flesh. No wonder she just lay at the back of her cage looking broken.
The chickens thrived; Honey became friends and a surrogate mom for some young Bantams we have. They had been weaned by their mother but still seemed to want some older female company. Mustard was friends with everyone! Dogs, cats, horses, guinea fowl and people – anyone who would walk around the garden with her!
And then on Thursday last week it was all over. I went out in the morning and Mustard was lying on her side in her bed. She was still alive, but barely. I stroked her and said my goodbyes and an hour later she was gone. Lying in the early morning sun that she loved. She had soil under her feet and leaves over her head; friends all around her and people that loved her.
She died of old age at 6 months old. Old age that came so early because of the way her kind had been selectively bred to reach maximum weight for slaughter in the soonest possible time – 40 days old; from a chickens normal life span of 8 years. Its all just tragic!
I wrote the above about a month ago but hadn’t sent it as I needed to finish it. I am pleased to be able to report that Honey is well, her limp has totally gone and she is really asserting herself around our stables. A dog found me about two weeks ago and has come to live with us. Honey obviously doesn’t think much of dogs – especially strange ones and body blocks them if they come too close to the feed room! She is such a beautiful and happy bird, I enjoy her company so much and really feel honoured to have had 2 such special people in my life as Honey & Mustard!
~Paula, Johannesburg, South Africa
Read Full Post »