The day I changed my choice
Before electronic funds transfers, part of my role involved delivering wages to the staff in one of the company’s small depots. Sometimes I sent someone else, but often I would choose to go personally. It was an opportunity to check on the welfare of the team and make sure everyone was happy – or sort out any problems that had arisen.
It was a lovely 40 kilometres return journey out into the countryside of New Zealand. On the way back I’d stop to pick up 7 or 8 dozen eggs from the poultry farm, to fulfil orders that staff in the main office had given me that morning.This particular day when I arrived at the egg farm there were no eggs on the stall at the front of the building. The man in charge told me they hadn’t put them out yet. He beckoned me to follow him into one of the windowless sheds. I followed along chatting happily about the day’s events.
The house of horrors
I entered the shed to be confronted by thousands and thousands of hens, several to each tiny, tiny cage. They had no room to turn around, let alone lift up their very small wings. They had been debeaked and many had deformities, feather loss and a myriad of other problems. They were barely surviving. As the blood drained from my face, a cold shiver went up my spine. I felt sick. I felt foolish. I was shocked and terribly upset. I could only hold back the tears until I got back into my car.
The sounds, images, smells and feelings associated with that day are with me still.
I’d been oblivious
All this time I’d been collecting eggs from the egg farm and had never even thought about the conditions the hens were kept in. I’d been completely oblivious. I reproached myself for being so stupid. How could I classify myself as an animal lover and not have even considered the atrocities of battery farming? I could not believe I could have been so naive.
Shocked to the core
You may be wondering why I’m writing about this. It is probably obvious from what I’ve written that that day was a defining moment for me. It changed the way I thought. It was the day I lost some of my naivety. There were two things that shocked me particularly. The first was how anyone could justify treating another creature in that way. The second was the total lack of freedom and the cruelty the poor birds endured.
A bird lover
You might have guessed from other things on the site that I am a bird lover. At the time I had a cockatiel for a companion. I say companion rather than pet because Chico spent more time out of his cage than he did in it. He had free rein of the house and garden. In fact his cage was more like his haven where he slept and ate and could feel safe. He lived to the ripe old age of 27 and was something of a character, literally ruling the roost. I love not only companion birds but all birds.
Birds are extremely intelligent as well as beautiful, yet it’s really only in recent years that people have realised just how clever birds are – people who have never had one as a companion – that is. Friends who have kept chickens have told me wonderful stories that illustrate their intelligence. So when I think of a living creature gifted with thinking capacity, confined to a tiny space, I wonder about what we humans will stoop to in the urge to make money.
What thought processes justify this?
I’m intrigued, in a peculiar sort of way as to the thought processes that must occur to justify battery farming. What must someone have to believe in order to treat a living creature in this way? Are they so arrogant that they think hens can’t feel pain, and so think they are justified to treat them however they like?
Can they turn a blind eye to the cruelty in the interests of making money?
Or is it that they don’t believe other creatures have a right to a reasonable standard of existence? I don’t have any answers to this issue — only more questions.
Lack of freedom is untenable to me.
Freedom, my ability to make choices is something I value highly. I treasure my own freedom every day. I believe I have some control over my own destiny. Yet I’ve spoken to people who have described themselves as being like a battery hen.
They live in self-imposed cages
They work in uninspiring jobs doing work they hate, performing the same tasks day in and day out, looking forward to the weekends when they can escape and do what they really love. They believe they have no choice in life. They may not be in physical pain, yet they certainly suffer mental anguish and stress. They don’t really live a life; it’s more like an existence.
These are good people too.
People who have often put all their efforts into raising lovely children whom they encourage to do great things. Some buy lotto tickets every single week and spend evenings watching TV. Others drink or take drugs as a way to escape their reality. They will tell you they don’t have a choice because they:
- Have no education
- Have no training
- Can’t afford to better themselves
- They’ve ‘had their life,’
- They’re not very intelligent
- (Fill in the blank)
No other options
Either they are oblivious to the options they have in life, or it seems easier to continue their current existence and survival mentality.
Humans do have choices
Unlike battery hens we do have free will and we do have choices. We can choose to live in our self-imposed cages or we can decide to break out. We constantly make choices throughout the days, weeks, months and years of our lives: The choice to get up in the morning or stay in bed, whether to get dressed or stay in pyjamas, whether to go to work or not.
Most people don’t see these routines as choices because they automatically get up, get dressed and go to work.
Conscious or unconscious choices
The key to getting off what can feel like a treadmill is to consciously make a choice rather than unconsciously make the choice. Even becoming aware that we are making choices gives us an opportunity to feel more in control of our lives. Then we can wake up to the choices we have available to us. It may not always be easy to make those choices, but recognising our capacity to make them can set us free. Instead of feeling constrained we feel liberated.
You can choose to spend an evening reading, studying or learning something new. You can choose to invest the lottery ticket money in an evening class, or a book. You can choose do any of these things and more. But firstly you have to realise what it means to be human. You are not a battery hen. Life gives you freedom of choice. I believe everyone has power and the potential to do great things. The first step is to make the choice.
The last egg run
It was the last time I did the egg run. Sure, I still went to the depot but I told the staff that they would have to get their own eggs in future and suggested they might consider buying free range.
I’ve been choosing free range ever since.