Rescue Story

Lemondrop, Cottonball, and Friends: 41 Chickens Rescued From Two NYC Crises

Cornish cross chickens eating snow at Farm Sanctuary

The rescued flock on their first day exploring a new barn.

Rescue Story

Lemondrop, Cottonball, and Friends: 41 Chickens Rescued From Two NYC Crises

The rescued flock on their first day exploring a new barn.

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One major rescue is rare. Two rescues in one day? It’s a bit of a miracle, really.

It was a Saturday in New York City and two separate but urgent situations were each unfolding: In one part of the city, rescuers were caring for chickens freed from a common religious ritual sacrifice. Farm Sanctuary, in collaboration with local activists, had already planned to take in a few birds rescued from this first case.

That same day, though, other people discovered birds who’d fallen from a truck bound for a Brooklyn slaughterhouse. By the end of the day, we’d be arranging to help 41 chickens in need.

Farm animals in cities

Few people expect to see farm animals roaming through the city streets—they are farm animals, after all. But the poultry and other meat industries transport tens of thousands to the region each year. They’re killed in live markets, slaughterhouses, and sometimes right on the city streets like the ones where the first group of chickens was rescued from.

Most of these farm animals blur into the background: People either don’t know they’re there, or they accept animal slaughter as a fact of life. But when farm animals reach the public sphere by chance, people start to pay attention. They see lives in trouble—not anonymous objects—and they want to help.

Cherry Darling hen with an orange foot wrap

Cherry Darling wears an orange foot wrap during treatment for a broken toe.

This industry sees chickens as commodities—as disposable and interchangeable. It fails to see the remarkable, irreplaceable life behind each being.

A lifesaving tragedy

On that sunny September day (after the first chickens were rescued), a completely unrelated chicken truck was driving through a Brooklyn neighborhood. It took a rough, wide turn at an intersection, tossing more than a dozen unsecured crates from the bed. Hundreds of tiny bodies slammed against each other before crash landing on the street.

The driver carried on. It’s unclear if they even noticed the missing cargo. Even so, losing a few hundred birds doesn’t make much of a dent when drivers must deliver thousands more. There’s also little incentive to go back and collect birds who might have died or been too damaged to process. This industry sees chickens as commodities—as disposable and interchangeable. It fails to see the remarkable, irreplaceable life behind each being.

But others do.

Animal activists raced to the scene to triage the chickens’ care and help as many as possible. Some were too injured to survive; the rescuers arranged for their humane euthanasia and the chickens passed peacefully in loving arms. But others had a chance—ironically, the trauma of the fall had freed them from slaughter and placed them in the path of sanctuary.

The rescuers called their network for help: The more homes they could find, the more lives they could save. Our contact from the first group of rescued chickens reached out to us and asked if we could take them in as well.

We made space for 30 more and readied ourselves for their care.

Early days at Sanctuary

There were a few troubling cases. One chick, Lemondrop, had a broken wing. We don’t know which group she came from—the first group or the latter—so it either happened from rough handling or from the fall. Another chick, Cottonball, was battling an infection and had trouble standing and walking—possibly from neurological damage.

Most were in relatively good health if not a little shaken up. They were a bit shy and cautious at first, especially when exploring the outdoors. Having spent most of their short lives indoors, they would need a little time to adjust to their new world.

Sanctuary staff member kneels next to white chickens in a Watkins Glen barn

Sharing a hug with Caregiver Assistant Kayla

Chickens, in a (nut)shell

All of these survivors are Cornish cross chickens: the most common breed slaughtered for food. (They make up more than 9 of the 10 billion land animals slaughtered in the U.S. each year.) Though chickens can live up to eight years or more, most are killed within 47 days once they reach a “slaughter” weight of six pounds or more. (That’s not to mention the egg industry, which kills baby boys on the day they hatch because they won’t lay eggs.) In comparison, chickens raised in 1970 attained half that weight in ten weeks’ time.

This rapid and unnatural growth places enormous strain on these young animals’ bodies. Many become too heavy to fly. They develop conditions generally seen in geriatric birds—heart disease, respiratory failure, and skeletal damage. Their excessive weight overcrowds their organs and crushes their limbs. Their bodies simply give out.

Their quality of life suffers too. Chickens are natural explorers: They love scratching through grassy fields, dust bathing in the soil, and warming their feathers in the sun. However, most never even get to venture outside. (A note: euphemizing terms like “free-range” and “organic” do not guarantee chickens receive humane treatment. They’re unregulated labels aimed to target consumers who think they’re paying for better care. Learn more about “humane” labels.)

Instead, most chickens come from factory farms: massive windowless buildings, each packed with up to 30,000 overstressed and overgrown birds. Individualized care is nonexistent: There are simply too many animals in one place, so those who need extra help often slip through the cracks.

Growth rates of chickens raised for meat have increased 300% between 1968 and 2008.

With love, they can soar

With individualized care at Farm Sanctuary, Cottonball made a full recovery. Today, she’s just as healthy and active as the rest of lock. Lemondrop is healing too. While her wing droops slightly and she has some limits in range of motion, she otherwise looks and moves around very well. She’s a bright and happy bird who loves to explore. Her most recent source of excitement? Snow!

Lemondrop hen and friends enjoying the snow at Farm Sanctuary

Lemondrop (right) and friends enjoying the snow!

Given their breeding, this group is predisposed to excessive weight gain and is more at risk for ailments like arthritis. For this reason, they’re on special diets to keep them healthy and mobile for as long as possible. This group is an active bunch: The chickens enjoy scratching through the straw, pecking at people for attention and food, and spreading their wings under the warmth of the sun.

We can’t turn back time to erase the damage that’s already been done—but that doesn’t mean we give up hope. Lemondrop, Cottonball, and their friends will live out their lives in freedom and peace. And those lives are meaningful and full.

The Someone Project: Chickens

Norm rooster at Farm Sanctuary

Every chicken is someone—not something. Unfortunately, some people justify harm against chickens—their rampant abuse in animal agriculture and their ultimate slaughter—based on perceived intelligence. But chickens are sentient beings. They feel fear and pain—and also pleasure and love. Click here to see into a chicken’s mind and learn how their lives have value all of their own.

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Connie sheep at Farm Sanctuary

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