Isabelle Cnudde of Los Altos says the chickens she adopted through Animal Place lay even more eggs than those she raised herself. (Peter Cnudde)
Isabelle Cnudde of Los Altos has two cats and one dog. She also had three hens. And when one died, she thought about replacing her by going to a farm where she had initially purchased them. But then she thought better of it.
“It’s not right to just go and buy chickens, so I started to look for adopted chickens,” she said. “I found Animal Place, learned I could adopt chickens from them and thought, ‘What a great thing to do.’” She adopted two chickens earlier this year.
Animal Place rescues farm animals when they are deemed no longer as productive as they once were and would normally be “depopulated,” a euphemism that farmers use for killing them. Every so often they team up with local SPCA chapters and hold adoption events. Such an event is taking place for chickens on Sunday, September 27 October 18 at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland from 12pm to 2pm.
While it’s called an adoption event, it’s really more of a “pick-up,” event, as adopters apply on Animal Place’s website and get approved before the actual day of pick-up.
Adopters pay $10 a chicken (if they’re adopting between one and four); $7 a chicken (if they’re adopting between five and nine), and $5 each if they adopt between 10 and 15.
“We call those who apply and have a few questions that we go over with them, and then we bring as many chickens as are being adopted that day to the site,” said Jacinda Virgin, Animal Place’s adoption coordinator.
Potential adopters must have a fully-enclosed chicken coop already and must promise to keep the chickens after they are no longer laying eggs.
“While there’s no real way to enforce that, I’m a stickler for it,” said Virgin. “I really try to find out if you’re a person who really cares about the chickens.”
Furthermore, she added, “You also have to make sure they have food, water and shelter -- and promise that if they’re suffering in any way, you’ll take them to the vet.”
While Animal Place has been holding these events for around five years, the animal sanctuary is 25 years old. Its main sanctuary is in Grass Valley, but chickens and goats live at its adoption facility in Vacaville.
“We work with different egg farmers that we have good business relationships with,” said Virgin. “These chickens are mostly in battery cages, but some are free-range. Sometimes we get notified about really bad situations. But for the most part, farmers call us when they’re ‘depopulating,’ when the chickens are one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years old. They’ve started seeing a decline in their egg production, and they don’t see them as profitable.”
The chickens have not stopped laying eggs altogether but have just slowed down a bit, Virgin emphasized, so adopters will definitely get eggs out of the deal.
Virgin said that the Vacaville facility always has hens up for adoption and wants the word to get out so people who want backyard chickens won’t buy chicks.
“We’re hoping that people will start to see it’s better to rescue and adopt chickens than breeding or buying chicks because it’s a really cruel industry,” she said. “Sadly, the boy chicks are usually killed before they even make it to be sold, since people only want female chickens for the eggs.”
Virgin said that most chicken owners are surprised to see how their personalities emerge.
“People fall in love with them as companion animals. They’re really sweet and have their own personalities like cats and dogs,” said Virgin. “There are plenty who need homes and they can be a fun companion at the same time.”
This was confirmed by Cnudde who said that the chickens she adopted from Animal Place are in fact more productive than those she raised herself.
“It’s shocking that the farms discard them after a year-and-a-half, as they still lay a lot of eggs,” she said. While the chickens she raised herself lay about one egg every three days, the hens she adopted lay an egg a day. Also since Cnudde is trying to eat a mostly vegan diet, she said, “I have to give them away, I can’t eat them all.”
When asked what Cnudde would say to those on the fence about adopting chickens, she said the benefits are many.
"When you adopt a chicken from Animal Place, you make space for another chicken that can be saved from a farm," she said.
But the greatest enjoyment has come in the form of seeing her chickens “learning to be chickens at my house. They were in cages their whole lives, and to see them discovering new things was really amazing for me,” said Cnudde.
While her other chickens were already used to the kale or chard leaves she fed them from her garden, the new chickens would hesitantly try them while making faces. When they discovered they liked the new food, they’d run around with it and not share it with anyone.
Compared to her cats and dog, Cnudde said the chickens are practically no work at all. “Once you have a coop with nests for them, and it’s big enough for them to run around safely from predators, you only need to clean it and refill the feeder once a week. You can go on vacation and leave them for a week, while for the cats and dog I need a sitter. The chickens are much less maintenance.”
Update 9/24/15: Animal Place does not endorse leaving chickens alone for a week without a proper caregiver.