Story & photo Tirza Abb
One day, during the fires, a lone chicken wandered down from the hills to my home and took up residence, making a roost on the top of an outdoor clothes rack, under a shelter. I put a flower pot up there, filled it with straw, and she started laying eggs in it, every day.
I thought I had hit the big time! Eggs for free! Without having to be responsible for the chicken or come home and put her away every night. Maybe one day a snake might come and eat her, I thought, but ‘that’s nature’, right?
I started to feed her. I named her Puk Puk, called her to me, cuddled her, and bonded with her. This went on for about three months, until one day she became sick. It was a sad sight. She sat in her pot all day and stopped laying eggs and clucking around.
I lifted her down, washed her dirty feathers, brought her inside and settled her into a box of straw, but she didn’t really get better. I didn’t know what to do. Then someone gave me the contact number of a local organisation called Who gives a Cluck?
Julie O’Shea, who is the main force behind the organisation, talked me through Puk Puk’s symptoms, and then gave me different medications that treated her for fleas, internal parasites and general chicken diseases. I treated her, but knowing that I was moving house soon, I asked Julie if she could take her in. She needed better care than I could give her.
Free range shock
I took her up to Julie’s land, where there were lots of other chickens, a few in a bad state. I was shocked! Had these chickens been rescued from battery farms? No. They had been rescued from free-range, local farms.
This little brown chicken of mine was the same as the others, an ISA brown; bred to lay an egg every day – which is not natural at all . These free range chickens, after 18 months to two years of laying eggs are killed, even by the most ethical of farmers, because they are no longer commercially viable.
To my shock, according to www.australianeggs.org.au/egg-industry, in the 2018–19 financial year, the number of chickens killed on any one day in Australia, in the egg industry alone, is 78,372 and of that number, 47 per cent are free-range. Therefore 36,835 free range chickens are killed every day, due to commercial non-viability.
Until this point, I had believed that my egg choices were good. I only bought free-range, open-pasture, organic, locally-sourced eggs. I had never thought about what happens to the chickens after they have been worn-out by egg-laying. This is where Who gives a Cluck? steps in. They rescue these chickens and find them forever homes.
I asked Julie ‘How can I be more ethical if I want to eat eggs?’
She said there are solutions, ‘Firstly, never buy eggs from the big supermarket chains, buy them from a market, from the producer, and ask the question about what happens to the chickens when they are no longer commercially viable.
‘If you have to buy from a shop, then buy local and contact the egg company, asking them the same question. Tell those producers about Who gives a Cluck?,’ says Julie.
‘We WANT the farms to give us their chickens so we can re-home them with an approved hen-parent – who will give them a forever home, regardless of their egg-laying ability.
‘As a hen-parent you may not get an egg a day per chicken, but with five to six chickens you will probably get around two eggs every day, on average, from your flock and save five to six lives.’
Julie imagines a world where, instead of people buying newly-hatched pullets, every ex-farm hen will have a home to go to. Once there, they will fertilise your garden with their poo, eat pests, veggie scraps, egg shells, old yoghurt and milk, and contribute to the mental health of their human parents.
Hen-parenting not for you?
Who Gives a Cluck? has just achieved charity status. For $7 you can re-home a chicken and give back to the charity, helping with the costs of food, medicines and accommodation. In a few weeks they will have DGR status (donor gift recipient), which means that you can donate and receive a tax break.
Their online shop will be ready in one month, selling everything hen-worthy; including tried and tested herbal remedies for chickens, and offering workshops, as well as many other things. Even if you can’t look after chickens at home, there is always a need for volunteers, for the rescue and clean-up days at the ridge-top property in Main Arm.