California voters will have an historic opportunity to dramatically reduce the suffering of more than 20 million animals raised for food in this state every year by voting YES on Proposition 2. At Farm Sanctuary, we see the effects of factory farming every day in hundreds of rescued farm animals who live at our 300-acre shelter in Orland, California. I am heartened that my home state could soon become the first in the nation to end the use of all three of the most cruel factory farming practices: the confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages breeding pigs in gestation crates and holding calves in veal crates.
Such practices squeeze living animals into the tiniest spaces possible and intentionally thwart their natural desire for movement and exploration. The result is severe physical debilitation, chronic stress, and psychological trauma.
At Farm Sanctuary, every animal has a name and health-care chart, some things never found at factory farms, because animals there are viewed simply as production units. In the case of egg laying hens, the industry measures their “welfare” by how many eggs they produce. What the industry isn’t telling voters is that chickens will produce eggs regardless of how they are treated. They have been selectively bred to consistently produce upward of 250 to 300 eggs a year, when they once produced 60 to 70 per year. Selective breeding for maximum egg production leads to brittle bones, or osteoporosis, and egg-bound birds with chronic reproductive issues. We see the symptoms in nearly every egg-laying hen we’ve rescued.
Boston, Bombay, and Kiev are three hens who Farm Sanctuary rescued (with about 60 others) from a battery-cage operation, and like most birds who spend their entire lives crammed into small wire cages with five or six cage mates, they came to us looking like they’d just been beaten up—and in a very real way, they had been. They had lost so many feathers that their skin was raw and red in patches from rubbing against the metal walls of their “home,” a cage that provided each of them with less area than a sheet of standard paper in which to live, which meant they could not even spread their wings. And they were debeaked, meaning the top portions of their beaks were seared off to prevent them from pecking each other from frustration within such tight quarters. When given enough space to roam, these hens do not aggressively peck or cannibalize one another, as the industry claims. We estimate the trio had been living in these conditions for somewhere between one and two years. Imagine being stuck in a crowded elevator for a year. How would you react?
Over the days and weeks, as we tended to their wounds, I watched the hens come out of their shells—a sort of rebirth, so to speak—as they acclimated to their new surroundings and found their places in the flock. They have become socially active, curious chickens, taking dust baths, preening their feathers and scratching the earth beneath their feet: natural pleasures that they could never experience living in a barren battery cage in a shed crowded with tens of thousands of other birds.
After getting to know the animals residing at the California shelter, it pains me to think of even one of our animals having to spend a single day in a battery cage, gestation crate, or veal crate. And yet, millions of animals in California are not as fortunate as our residents, and never get to experience anything but constant frustration and pain before their lives end abruptly at the slaughterhouse.
Farm Sanctuary can rescue and shelter only a tiny fraction of the animals suffering on factory farms. Proposition 2 could free more than 20 million animals a year on California farms from a life of intensive confinement, granting them the basic freedom of movement that is now totally denied to them. I believe that the way we treat the most vulnerable among us is a measure of our compassion as a society, and that is why I urge you to vote YES on Proposition 2.
Leanne Cronquist is the Orland, Calif. shelter director of Farm Sanctuary, a co-sponsor of the YES! on Prop 2 campaign. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.