Frequently Asked Questions
Where do the chickens at the sanctuary come from?
About a third of our residents are birds who were raised in sheds by farmers under contract to big poultry companies like Tyson and Perdue. Sometimes, these birds manage to evade the "chicken catchers" who load them into trucks headed for the factory. If they are then lucky enough to make their way into someone's yard or onto public property, they may be fortunate enough to be picked up by a kindly person and brought to the local Humane Society or directly to us. Many other birds headed for the factory fall or leap from the trucks, ending up by the side of major highways. In our area, dead and injured birds on the roadside is a common sight because there are slaughter factories in every direction. We pick up these birds ourselves and also take in birds picked up by kind local citizens. Some die from injuries but most recover to live a happy life at our sanctuary.
About half of our residents are hens who were previously confined in egg factories. Typically, these birds are considered "spent" after about a year and a half in the factory, at which time they are sent off to be slaughtered for low-grade meat. It is sometimes possible to rescue a few hens at this point, by simply asking for them, since the factory owners do not consider an individual hen to be worth very much. Also living at our sanctuary are a group of hens rescued after the factory in which they were confined was hit by a tornado. A rescue team headed by the OohMahNee sanctuary in Pennsylvania convinced the factory owner to release, rather than kill, as many birds as rescuers could carry away. Another group of hens were rescued from the Cypress Farms egg factory, where they had been abandoned to starve by the bankrupt owner of the business.
The remaining sanctuary residents have many different life histories. Some were removed from abusive situations by Humane Officers. Others had been previously rescued by families who were then forced to give them up due to zoning regulations or landlord problems. One group of roosters came from another sanctuary that shut down.
What do they eat?
The chickens at our sanctuary are outside from dawn to dusk, spending much of their time foraging for greens and insects. (Yes, they eat worms like many other birds.) Whenever one of their foraging areas is depleted, we reseed it with clover, alfalfa, wheat grass, or rye grass. We also supply a natural diet of grains and seeds, supplemented by whatever fruits and vegetables are cheap and in season. We hope, over time, to grow more of their food ourselves, to cut down on costs.
Chickens especially love sunflower seeds, leafy greens, and strawberries, all of which are good for them. Chickens also love cracked corn, because it is sweet, but cannot be given too much of it because it is low in nutritional value compared to the other elements of their diet. Chickens go crazy for spaghetti, with or without sauce, and never get enough hard boiled eggs.
We take a pro-active approach to health at the sanctuary and therefore supplement the chickens' food with vitamins and herbs. We use a water soluble vitamin and mineral supplement once per week and at times of stress, such as changes in housing or particularly hot or cold weather. We mix kelp or healthful herbs into the feed whenever we can afford to and also use herbs to relieve symptoms when a bird is sick.
Where do they sleep?
Most of the birds at our sanctuary sleep in what we call the main coop, which is a nice wood framed barn-like building with doors opening out to the two main foraging yards and the smaller nursery/infirmary yard. There are a variety of sleeping areas, so that each bird can choose whether to perch up high or nestle in the bedding down below. We also have low perches that we made ourselves so that the overweight "broiler" birds can have the feeling of perching without the risk of hurting themselves when jumping up or down.
We have a separate coop and yard just for the mature "broiler" hens. These hens like to socialize together apart from the hustle and bustle of the main yards. They are joined by juvenile roosters too young for the main yard and by a couple of older roosters who aren't quite spry enough to keep up with the other roosters but don't need to be in the infirmary either. The extensive foraging yard for this coop, like the other yards, includes both sunny and shady areas and is enlivened by plenty of honeysuckle and wild roses.
Among our residents are 24 semi-wild roosters who were accustomed to living in the trees at another sanctuary before coming to live here. Of these birds, about half have decided that coming inside to sleep, sometimes cuddled together with a big group of hens, is just what they always wanted. (One elderly rooster, who we call The Gentleman, hardly ever leaves the coop, because he is so busy attending to hens as they come and go in the course of their day.) The rest of these roosters have taken to roosting high up among the trees that span the foraging yards. They stay pretty close together and raise quite a ruckus if anything disturbs their sleep. Between the fence around the yard, the height at which they roost, and their quickness to raise an alarm, we think they are safe from predators. We are still hoping, however, that they will elect to come in from the cold when winter comes.
What do they do all day?
Anybody who thinks that chickens are content to be confined needs to come over to our house at dawn. Before the sun has fully risen, the chickens are agitating to be let out of the coop. When we do open the doors, they burst out in their excitement to greet the new day. We always say "every morning is a good morning for chickens" and cannot compare the happiness we feel seeing them seize each day. Some start foraging right away, others head right for the water bowl or a mud puddle, and still others prefer to stretch their legs and socialize before breakfast. Some like to interact with us as we walk around distributing food and water and making sure that everyone is okay. The birds who do like to interact with us expect us to be polite and interact in return. Just as any human friend would feel insulted or hurt if we passed them by without saying hello, certain birds make it clear that they expect a greeting. Others have nothing to do with us and that's fine by us too. We are here for them, not the other way around.
After breakfast, the hens who are laying eggs get started on that process. There is a corner of the main coop that is preferred by many birds and we have actually seen them lined up, each bird waiting her turn to use the favored spot. Others prefer more private nests they have made themselves in the brush or in hollow tree trunks. Birds who are not caught up in the egg laying process tend to break up into pairs and small groups for sun bathing, preening, and socializing. On winter mornings, in particular, the sunny spots in the yard are always filled with small groups soaking up the sun and interacting with one another. Sun bathing is important because birds, like people, need some sunshine in order to be fully healthy.
There is, of course, a great deal of variability, since each bird is an individual. Most have one or more friends with whom they spend much of their time but others are loners who are rarely in the company of others. Some birds are active all day long, investigating and experimenting when not foraging; others like to lounge about as much as possible, napping or sedately socializing for the better part of each day.
Midday is nap time for many birds. Naps are taken in the shade in the summer and in the sun or (on rainy or especially cold days) the coop in the winter.
Many birds like to do their dust bathing in the afternoon. Chickens, like many other birds, use dust baths to keep themselves clean and free of mites. They make a depression in the dust and then go limp, sinking into the earth as far as possible, turning around and over periodically. The point is to get as much dust deep into the feathers as possible and then shake it out. When chickens dust bathe together, they help each other out by pushing and kicking dirt onto those hard to reach places. Birds who aren't dust bathing tend to hang out in the woods in the afternoon. Hidden in the underbrush and perched on low branches, they are almost invisible from a distance.
Late afternoon is when we generally give out whatever "treat" will be supplementing the grains and seeds for the day. The birds all learn this very quickly, so everyone stops whatever they are doing whenever we appear at that time of day.
Towards the end of the day, the birds eat again, filling their crops with food that will digest overnight. Then they take themselves to bed. As with everything else, individual birds make different choices. Some go to bed quite early and thus get to sleep in their favorite spot every night. Others stay outside until the very last minute before dark, making do with whatever sleeping space happens to be open when they finally make their way in. Meanwhile, we are carrying in the birds from the nursery/infirmary (who have their own routine) so that we are there to close the doors as soon as the last bird is inside. Safe from predators of all kinds, the birds of the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary then go to sleep for the night.
What do you do with the eggs?
We boil up the eggs and feed them to the chickens. This is healthful, since chickens naturally eat any egg that isn't going to be hatched. Remember, the purpose of the egg is to nourish the growing chick. So, eggs contain all kinds of nutrients that are good for chickens. By hard boiling them and tearing them up, we can make sure that everybody gets some.
What else do you do besides take care of the chickens?
At the local level, we work to draw attention to the abuses of animals, workers, and the environment by the poultry industry, which is very powerful in this area. We also do our best to make people aware of the many benefits of a vegetarian diet. We have a lot of ideas for additional local educational projects but have to wait until we have the money to implement those ideas. At the national and international levels, we work in coalition with other organizations to advocate for animals and to make it clear that factory farming hurts people and the environment too. Because the founders of the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary have been activists in other realms, we consider it our special mission to forge connections between the animal liberation movement and other movements. At present, the sanctuary coordinator is also coordinating an international coalition effort concerning factory farming and world hunger.
How did you get started?
We found a chicken in a ditch. Luckily, we were already supporters of longstanding organizations like United Poultry Concerns and Farm Sanctuary so we knew who to contact for advice. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns was particularly helpful. We came to love that first chicken (you can read about Viktor in our Meet the chickens section) and soon told the local Humane Society that we would be happy to take in any birds brought to them. A few birds came to us that way. Then (with the permission of the farmer) we rescued a big group of hens who had managed to escape the chicken catchers at a nearby farm. By then, about six months after finding the first bird, we decided to make it formal and incorporated the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary. That was in the summer of 2000. Because some ducks have since moved in along with the chickens and because we are expanding our publication and eduction efforts, we have recently renamed ourselves the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center.
How do you pay for it all?
The founders of the sanctuary, pattrice and miriam jones, started out paying for everything themselves and still sometimes have to dip into their own very limited funds to make ends meet. Luckily, more and more donors have been helping out. Just five dollars covers food, bedding, and medications for one bird for one month. Please consider making a gift by sending a check or using the convenient PayPal service to make an online donation using your credit card or checking account.
We can always use help. Even a small donation makes a big difference
Do you need volunteers?
Yes! Folks who live nearby can volunteer to help with chores or sign up to be available to transport chickens to us or to and from the vet. We also need people to help with writing and research for educational materials. Thanks to the internet, anyone can get involved, wherever they live. Finally, we always need people to come to protests or join in letter writing campaigns and other efforts that can be done from home. To find out about actions that you can take to help, sign up for our weekly newsletter by sending a blank email message to firstname.lastname@example.org To sign up as a volunteer, call us or send an email message to email@example.com