Since college, Ariana Huemer has worked in the animal protection field. Her years of experience includes working on a large farm-animal sanctuary, investigating and documenting cruelty, and rescuing animals from horrendous conditions.
“The most egregious cruelty I witnessed, on the largest scale,” says Ariana, Founder of Hen Harbor in Santa Cruz, California,“is the abuse inflicted on laying hens. The suffering of hens in the egg industry is terrible because it is protracted and on a vast scale.”
At Hen Harbor, life-long care is provided for hens rescued from abusive situations such as the factory egg-farming industry and illegal cockfighting industry. “Feeding and cleaning up after one hundred chickens is not that hard,” Ariana explains. “The hard part of sanctuary life is dealing with the daily health crises.”
Although there are happy rescue stories and animals frolicking in the grass at Hen Harbor, Ariana continues, “There is also plenty of grief and tears. It’s something I haven’t learned to deal with. I doubt I ever will.”
In 2015, Battery Cages will be banned in California and replaced with “enriched” cages; however, the new cages will only allow hens an incremental amount of additional space. “In this day and age, there is no need to kill others to live. Egg-farming kills billions of animals annually in horrible ways. Cages should not exist at all.”
“Chickens are complicated animals. They are always doing something every second of the day,” says Ariana describing their foraging, investigating, preening, chattering, running, flying, hunting for bugs, dust-bathing, and nest building. “It’s mind boggling that humans would take such a complex, intricate creature, and cage her for her entire life and think that’s okay.”
“Laying hens are bred to self-destruct around the age of three.” Whereas a wild hen will conceivably lay fourteen eggs in a year, the egg-laying rate of an industry bird is over three hundred eggs annually.
“By some estimates,” Ariana adds, “Ninety percent of these birds, those who are not slaughtered, will die of ovarian cancer or other reproductive issues.” Approximately twenty-five percent of ex-battery cage hens arrive at Hen Harbor with fatal reproductive issues.
“The surgery to save them is expensive and risky. Only half survive,” Ariana says, “but the temporary hormonal implants to shut down their ovaries will save their lives.”
For example, Apples, a hen rescued from a battery-cage factory farm in June 2013, required a $650 surgery to remove impacted egg material and surrounding, necrotic tissue. For hens like Apples, a $200 hormonal implant is required every 3 to 6 months to stop hens from laying; if they produce one more egg, they will die.
Although the implant has been available in the United States for the past few years, most sanctuaries, hen owners, and veterinarians aren’t aware of the implant option to save their hens. Many still euthanize battery cage hens when they have impacted oviducts or other fatal reproductive conditions.
“It’s a constant battle to come up with funding for this.” Multiple surgeries can cost upward of $1,000 a year to keep a hen alive. “We owe it to them to go to these lengths. By giving them an implant, we're helping them return to their natural selves.”
“Egg-laying places a huge burden on hens’ bodies. When that burden is lifted, the birds blossom,” Ariana says of the transformation in hens who’ve had the hormonal implant. “They grow new feathers, get color in their legs and beaks, and their energy doubles. They return to a natural state, the way their bodies would have been if they hadn’t been genetically manipulated into unnatural laying.”
The transformation process truly begins when the hens first arrive at Hen Harbor. “When the hens first arrive from the battery cages, they pile on top of each other. They are so terrified of the open space that they cram into corners. This goes on for a few days before they relax enough to actually take a few steps forward.”
“Everyone should see a caged animal experience their first steps of freedom. The first time they see a blade of grass or a piece of watermelon in front of them, the first time they realize they have options and free will, it’s amazing.”
“When they finally trust their surroundings enough to lie down and spread their wings for a sun bath, it melts your heart,” Ariana says. “You appreciate what you have, knowing that so many others have so little.”
“We owe it to those who are suffering to care for the ones we can rescue. At the sanctuary, we know for sure that at least for these animals, we’ve made a difference."