VEGA News Item

Chicken Run on Road. Scotland Gridlocked. - 15/10/2007
Chickens made a bid for freedom yesterday when a lorry they were travelling in crashed on the A80.

Chickens made a bid for freedom yesterday when a lorry they were travelling in crashed on the A80. No casualties were reported.

        - Guardian, 12 October 2007

Hundreds of chickens escaped from their coops yesterday after the lorry carrying them jack-knifed on the A80 near Haggs in Scotland, causing traffic chaos. Many of the chickens, which were on their way to a slaughterhouse, were killed in the crash.

        - The Independent, 12 October 2007

At 4.30am 3000 of the birds were being transported from farm to slaughterhouse when the lorry carrying overturned. The driver sustained serious back injuries, 400 birds died in the impact – or later from their injuries – but as dawn broke and the lorry lay on its side, thousands of chickens escaped from their crates and swarmed on the road… to dodge the dinner table and bring gridlock to Scotland.

        - The Times, 12 October 2007

The Times report includes a statement from a passer-by at the scene: “There were dead chickens all over the road, live chickens running about everywhere, and policemen and chicken containers. The air was thick with feathers…”

Vets began to arrive at 7am. At 9.30am the operation to recapture the chickens was stepped up, with the arrival of specialist chicken handlers from Noble Foods in Glenrothes. “By now many of the chickens appeared to have lost the will to keep running,” reported The Times. Catriona Ewan, a vet involved in the clear-up, said: “Most of them were huddling together: they’re not used to being out of doors”. She estimated that she had “put down” up to 80 birds with broken wings or legs. “She had hoped to minimize the suffering, although she could not help feeling that this was superfluous considering the life expectancy of the chickens – broilers that are slaughtered while still young and tender” observed Catriona Ewan: “They don’t have the best life as a result of being farmed and were on their way to be killed, anyway”.

The survivors were eventually put back in the crates and transported to a processing plant in Gainsborough. Sympathy with the birds’ plight and respect for the vets’ professional vow to do their utmost for the welfare of the animals in his/her care apparently failed to take a few of the stray chickens to the nursery of the local veterinary hospital nor to forswear any further consumption of poultry.

The Times describes “the easiest way to catch a chicken is to do so in the dark. Poultry catchers grab the birds by their legs and put them in plastic drawers inside a metal crate. A team of catchers can catch 5000 birds an hour, the usual consignment on one lorry. Trying to perform the same task in daylight is difficult. Chickens can see their catchers and also escape from a drawer. They will run free wherever possible. The usual method is therefore to corral the birds gently with a piece of wood and guide them into a pen. Only in a real emergency would birds be caught by netting or blankets.”

Millions of birds have to be caught and moved to slaughterhouses every day in the UK. The toll of DOAs (dead on arrival) and birds with fracture and in distress is high. Spent hens from egg laying flocks pose special problems because they have little meat on them. Culling and “thinning” of flocks add to the cruelty. Juxtaposition of rearing plants and slaughterhouses reduces some of the suffering and transportation and mobile killing units have been tried, but there are problems with scale and hygiene, as well as in achieving a “humane” process in gas chambers of ill repute (the gas usually being carbon dioxide in admixture with an inert gas such as nitrogen or argon: CO2 alone induces bouts of choking before death supervenes).

The methods of catching, transportation, and killing are common to nearly all of the poultry from commercial farms in the UK in practices covered by free range, organic, Freedom Foods, Soil Association, kosher, halal, and Red Tractor assurances, labels and logos. The public must have cause again to question descriptions of free range husbandry for birds bred from species native to jungles and able to fly in the areas below the forest canopy: free range denies the birds an essential freedom of defence and escape. The incident in Scotland was notable in showing how chickens have good reason to seek freedom on the other side of the road but the bigger question is the tragedy is their inability to lift off and fly away and land safely or roost in some accommodating trees.

And the befogged Guardian needs to appreciate the full meaning casualties and coops.  

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