the fund for animals
News From Our Care Centers ||     About Us     || Join our Online Community     || Upcoming Events

In This Section

Our Animal Care Centers


Ways To Give



200 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

An affiliate of
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
Global Federation logo

Katrina's Feathered Victims Find Safety

Two hundred of the more than 1,000 chickens rescued from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are home at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. These fortunate birds escaped one of our country’s most devastating disasters to find sanctuary from slaughter. Today, many months after they would have been killed for food, they spend their days scratching at the earth, dust-bathing, feeling the sun on their backs, perching, and roaming—they spend their days being chickens, naturally.

When Katrina ravaged the Gulf, she exacted an enormous toll, including taking the lives of millions of chickens when factory farms dotting the landscape were destroyed or power was lost, disabling the automated waterers, feeders, and gigantic fans which circulated air inside the warehouse-like sheds.

According to Miyun Park, vice president of Farm Animal Welfare for The Humane Society of the United States, and a member of the rescue team, "When power systems fail, animals trapped by the thousands in intensive confinement facilities are particularly vulnerable, put at risk by stifling summer heat, toxic ammonia, and limited or inaccessible food and water."

After Katrina hit, a team of six rescuers—four staff members from The Humane Society of the United States, and one each from Farm Sanctuary and Animal Place—met in Mississippi, the nation’s fourth-largest poultry producing state, to do what they could to reduce the suffering of too many chickens. Most of the state’s broiler chicken factory farms, however, are managed by contract growers, rather than independent producers. So, the rescuers met with rejection each time they sought permission to rescue and relocate birds. Finally, a contract grower, on the condition he would remain anonymous, allowed them onto his property to rescue as many chickens as they could who had escaped from damaged sheds.

Over two long nights, the team combed the woods surrounding the facility. By the light of their headlamps, they were able to see dozens of small clusters of chickens, huddled together, roosting. As quietly and quickly as possible, the six rescuers surrounded each group, one at a time, and gathered the birds so they could be taken to safety and sanctuary. They had rescued more than 1,000 chickens as dawn neared after their second night. As they left the woods and walked back towards the still-standing sheds, they came across a large open pit—a mass grave, littered with crushed beer cans and, shockingly, 21 still-live chickens left to die on top of decomposing corpses. Thankfully, the rescuers were able to free all 21 from the mass grave, and they, with the others, made their way to their new homes where they could live out their days without fear of slaughter.

Today, the chickens are fortunate to have found permanent homes at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, Animal Place in California, Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary in Colorado, and Farm Sanctuary in New York, where they will live in safety.

Chickens raised primarily for their meat are referred to as "broilers." Life for these chickens begins at a hatchery, without any contact with their mothers. Newly-hatched chicks are moved to a broiler house where they are thrown from a crate onto the floor of a building averaging 40 feet wide and 500 feet long. Twenty to thirty thousand birds are crowded together in each of these buildings, allowing only 1/2 to 1 square foot of space per bird.

Such overcrowding leads to problems such as restriction of movement and birds climbing over each other, scratching with their sharp claws. Heat stress is another problem; in hot weather, adequate ventilation to prevent it is virtually impossible. During heat waves, millions of birds have suffocated in these buildings. Labor, expense, and litter disposal problems result in many of the buildings being cleaned out only every two to three years, causing excrement to build up year after year. Ammonia and other gases also build up, creating an extremely unhealthy and stressful environment for these sensitive birds.

For more than 1,000 chickens, first escaping Katrina’s wrath, life in an overcrowded factory farm, and then the slaughterhouse, these birds are lucky, indeed.

posted March 14, 2006