In hopes of saving as many animals as possible during slaughterhouse closures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, various farmed animal sanctuaries are asking factory farms to surrender chickens, cows, pigs, and other farmed animals instead of killing them.
If you aren’t familiar with farmed animal sanctuaries, they are groups that rescue animals from the food system — whether that’s from a factory farm, where most meat, dairy, and eggs come from, or smaller, family-run farms — and provide them with rehabilitation and a lifelong home.
More than 72 billion land animals are killed for food globally each year — actions that are responsible for an estimated 18 percent of human-caused global GHG emissions — meaning there are always farmed animals in need of rescue.
Meatpacking plants are shutting down across the U.S. due to the coronavirus.
In slaughterhouses (or meatpacking plants, as the industry calls them), employees work shoulder to shoulder while doing physically demanding tasks, making the facilities high-risk spots for coronavirus transmission. As COVID-19 has spread around the U.S. over the past few months, several major slaughterhouses have become coronavirus hotspots, and many meatpacking plants have shut down, despite President Trump’s push to keep them open amidst the struggling economy.
But without slaughterhouses to send their animals to, most farmers are choosing between the following options:
- Swallow the cost of keeping the animals alive — and because most farms put profit ahead of animal care, this is an unlikely option.
- Sell the animals on Craigslist or social media to people who want to butcher the animals themselves.
- The most common option: “depopulate” the animals, aka kill them en masse (a task normally delegated to the slaughterhouse workers) and discard the bodies.
According to various reports, farmers have been killing their animals by shooting them in the head with guns, pumping CO2 into the ventilation systems to gas the animals to death, burying them alive, and more. Then, farmers are simply discarding the bodies in the trash, instead of “processing” them into meat. For the animals involved, these methods of slaughter are no better or worse than having their throats slit in a slaughterhouse (the standard method of killing); but consumers are growing concerned that animals’ lives are being taken for no reason, since their bodies are not being processed into meat.
Fortunately for the animals, there is a fourth option that a few farmers have taken advantage of: rehoming them to places where they will never be killed. And that’s where sanctuaries come in.
This sanctuary started a petition to rescue animals from factory farms.
“The only long-term solution is to boycott these industries and transition them to plant-based agriculture,” Woodstock Sanctuary wrote in the petition. “However, if there are homes for animals now who would be killed and thrown away, farms should work with rescue groups to save some lives.”
Farm sanctuaries are rescuing as many animals as they can.
Woodstock Sanctuary is working with several other U.S. animal sanctuaries to rescue animals from the animal agriculture industry during the coronavirus pandemic. Representatives of two of those sanctuaries, Barn Sanctuary, in Chelsea, Mich. and Iowa Farm Sanctuary, in Marengo, Iowa, recently visited an egg-laying factory farm in Iowa that is being shut down. The farm has a capacity of 140,000 birds.
Barn Sanctuary’s CEO Dan McKernan and Executive Director Kelly Holt shared a powerful video on Instagram showing an inside look at the rescue mission. As Dan and Kelly, who star in the Animal Planet reality show Saved by the Barn, explained in the video, this factory farm’s owner opened it up one day to anyone who wanted to rescue hens, allowing them to essentially take as many as they could fit. Barn Sanctuary was able to rescue 23 birds, five of whom they’ll keep, 10 who are going to Woodstock Sanctuary, and the remaining eight are going to a sanctuary in Ohio; Iowa Farm Sanctuary's Executive Director Jered Camp managed to rescue an additional 38 birds.
As seen in body cam footage Dan filmed during the rescue, the hens at the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) spend their lives packed onto rows and rows of stacked cages, laying eggs day after day until their production eventually slows down and they are killed. As they drove up to the CAFO, Kelly and Dan saw piles of dead hens who had just been gassed to death being transferred from one pile to another with a bulldozer. And the shocking visuals only continued once they went inside.
“The cages are very small and they’re packed inside, standing, literally standing on wires,” Dan explained.
“This is how the birds live their entire lives, from birth until they’re killed,” Kelly added. “The place smelled as bad as it looks. It smelled like death.”
“These birds have never seen sunlight, at all,” Dan said, “so a lot of them have traumas that they have experienced, just because this has been their entire lives so far,” Kelly continued, finishing his sentence. “This is not uncommon. This is probably what most large egg-laying facilities look like.”
“The numbers are overwhelming,” Woodstock Sanctuary’s Executive Director Rachel McCrystal tells Green Matters via email. “The hens who were rescued from the farm in Iowa are under 1 percent of the hens that were killed on that farm that week. There were 140,000 hens. And unbelievably, that's not even considered a very large industrial egg farm. We have to save as many as possible and tell their stories to inspire radical lasting change away from animal farming."