Written by: Imogen Bysshe
One day, not too long ago, farms were viewed as wholesome, productive places. Where cows grazed in fields, chickens wandered the yard, and pigs lay happily in shaded pens. People knew where their food was coming from, and they knew exactly how it was being produced. Farmers had no secrets (except perhaps the trick to grow the biggest pumpkin) and shared their produce with no strings attached. As the North American agricultural revolution progressed, this idea of “family farms” began to fade out. By mass-producing food, industrial farms have caused most small, family run farms to go out of business. With the industrial farm’s use of unnatural chemicals, methods of inhumanely treating livestock, and genetic engineering, they have managed to gain support from the government and monopolize food production. We’re often being informed of the cruelties of these factory farms. Where chickens are jammed together in miniscule dark pens and fed until they can no longer walk. Where cows are are sent to massive, filthy feeding lots and fattened for slaughter. Chickens, cows, pigs, ducks, and other animals we find in the grocery store have suffered fates so horrendous; their manufacturers don’t allow for visitors on the premises. The horrors of these farms are enough to make you sick, but how often do you go out of your way to do anything about it? My neighbor Amy Reid did this past summer, and here’s how.
Reid, mother of three, was driving near her cottage in Eugenia, a small municipality of Grey Highlands, when she saw a chicken on the lawn of a nearby daycare in Maxwell. When she inquired about the oddly placed chicken, wandering aimlessly in the grass, the workers nearby said the chicken had been there for three days and they hadn’t the faintest clue how it got there. “I’m going to take her,” she declared.
Chickens and other poultry are often debeaked upon arrival on factory farms. When kept in such close confinement, cannibalism and feather pecking are common among birds and their beaks are trimmed by about three millimeters using an electrically heated blade to prevent aggression. Many view this practice as a violation of animal rights for it can cause chronic pain and infection. Upon inspecting the new addition to her household, Reid noticed the little red hen was beakless, which would likely mean it was being transported to a factory farm. And there begins our story of the little chicken who did. This hen had fallen off a truck in Eugenia and wandered to the daycare’s field, where it carried on with its regular life, as a chicken would do. Little did the she know, her life would soon turn into something very unusual for the regular life of a chicken.
“She was really hungry, as soon as I offered her some bread, I had won her over. I had an old cat crate in the trunk of my car, which I used to transport her back home. Then I went to the co-op to pick up some supplies to build an enclosure in the backyard.” Reid says simply, describing the process of bringing the hen back to her home in in downtown Toronto at College and Ossington. When I asked her why she welcomed this chicken so quickly and lovingly into her home, she said “It’s quite exciting really, here was this chicken on it’s way to a big, evil laying operation; but somehow she managed to escape and make her way to me!” Does the chicken have a name you might ask? Reid’s two young sons were each given the task of finding a name they deemed suitable; the outcome was Sweetness Fireball, Sweetness for short.
Sweetness began laying eggs within three weeks of arrival at her new home. At precisely 6:30pm she would make her way into her small wooden nest in the yard and lay one egg. “She could get really, really loud, especially while laying and I got nervous the neighbors would complain”. Keeping chickens is actually illegal in Toronto, “so I made a deal with the neighbors: every week I’d give them a small basket of eggs if they kept quiet about Sweetness”. She told me about the advantages of farm fresh eggs, “we’re used to eggs from the grocery store which have a very thin shell and pale yolk, which they shouldn’t. Sweetness’ eggs are strong and rich in color, they also taste great cause of her varied diet.” This hen’s diet might be better than yours. Reid tells me Sweetness is fond of cereal and often finishes off the kids’ breakfasts. Her all time favorite though, is Thai rice which she often blends with bugs from the garden. “But” Reid says, “the real secret behind the goodness of the eggs is, when it comes from an animal you love and care about, the product is just that much better and more satisfying.”
Reid is thrilled to have brought this hen into her home, giving her the life of a family dog. Her and Sweetness share a close relationship, who would often sit on her lap peacefully and fall asleep while being stroked. Sweetness, a very sociable hen, would always try to come inside the house, desperately wanting to be a part of everyday family life. “She’s very calming, almost a stress relief” Reid admits, “it’s so nice to have an animal that feels that relaxed around you and consequently, makes you feel relaxed.”
Amy Reid’s story is touching and can bring hope to anyone anxious about the growing harms of industrial farming. Sweetness Fireball is a chicken who surely proved that not all animals have to suffer the fate of mass farming. Sweetness now resides at the farm of a close friend for the winter, but will be back in the spring.