I'm just a hen. One of many. We all blur together in an artificial environment, all 5,000 of us. Maybe more, I don't know. The noise is unbearable. All my flock shouting to one another. What are we shouting? Anything to be heard.
It's hot in here. I'm almost glad my feathers got pulled out by the BigBullyHens. I keep my head down and make myself small so maybe they'll peck on someone else. My feet hurt. The floor has holes in so the poop falls through. It's hard to walk on. There's no room to walk though, so I just stand, backed into a corner.
Every day is the same. I think it's a day. Time seems endless, divided into the Dark and Light. The Dark seems shorter than the Light which comes from glaring bulbs in the roof. I can't move very much other than to shift my weight a little. BigBullyHen grabs my comb and twists it in her beak. I scream in pain, which only makes her more cross. Why is she so angry with me? I did nothing to her. I did nothing to the humans who put me here. It's a mundane, repetive life. There is food. Water. But no Joy. I was hoping for Joy. To feel happy to be alive. This is no life. But it's all I have. My life, so I hold on to it tightly because without this life, maybe there's nothing at all. Only the Dark. I sleep where I stand, my head tucked under my sparse wing feathers. I drift away and dream strange images, images that I think are the Joy, the real life, where my feet don't hurt and my comb isn't torn and bloody. Sigh.
My job is to lay eggs. Every Light. One by one we all lay the eggs which roll away out of sight. And that's it. The reason we're all here. It's getting harder though, I feel so tired. I feel old and used up but in reality I'm only 72 weeks old.
Suddenly, the flock noise goes up an octave. Becomes shrill. Is that panic? Yes. I crane my neck to see what the cause of the commotion is. BigBullyHen pecks my face so I shrink back into my corner. The panic is infectious and it takes hold of me, I can't breathe, is this the end? One by one our screaming neighbours are pulled from their cages. No! This isn't right, this doesn't normally happen! It's change. Now I am terrified. This is New&Different, what is happening? My cage front falls away and human hands reach in. No! NO!! Leave me alone, I don't want to die, I'll be good, I promise! Today was another bad day but I swear I'll lay you an egg tomorrow, I just needed a little rest....."
~ Normally the flock would be transported en masse for "processing". To slaughter. Too old and slow to meet supermarket demand. Thousands of terrified little souls condemned to death. Their lives over, their spirits snuffed out like candles.
"'S'ok girlie, you're going home!'
The gentle voice is unexpected. I'm put in a pet carrier, lined with a paw print patterned fleecey blanket. Three of my flock join me and the carrier is closed up. We rock from side to side as we're carried away. What is this? Light shines through the slats. It's Light...but different. So bright. Magical. I can smell something...it's fresh air! Oh! It's so sweet. The carrier is still, then there's a thud followed by a low rumbling, an engine, then we're moving. We hunker down, huddled together. Panic has subsided to dull, aching fear. After what seems like another eternity, the rumbling stops and the carrier is lifted, moving, being taken to heaven only knows where...
The carrier is opened and Light floods in. We blink, it's almost too much. We hear birds singing and outside the carrier there is...grass?
A soft voice says, 'You're home, Burds!' One by one we summon the courage to leave our temporary safe place. We are four hens, together. We step out. There is a smiling human. Our Human, our rescuer.
There is food. Water. And now we have found our Joy.
I'm not just a hen. I have a name, I am Florence! I am a Burd. I am loved. I have a new family, sisters, Kittehs and Humans. I am a HENdividual."
Rescue some hens. Spread the Joy 😍🐔🐔🐔