In March 2016 we rescued 13 broiler chickens that had been destined for the meat trade and would have been slaughtered after just 50 days of life. Every month thousands of birds are reared and have their lives cut short to enter the food chain, the ones that are left are those deemed not fit to go into the food chain but are slaughtered anyway.
Whenever they are in the houses, there could be 14,000 birds in a house. A lot of them get dislocated legs, broken legs, and backs damaged, which is why we have some disabled birds.
Unfortunately from our original 13, we lost two right away – they just couldn’t hold on any longer.
When the birds arrived with us, they were overweight and filthy as a result of the grim lives they had led in the intensive broiler chicken system. They were very heavy birds, you’d have thought they were weighted to the ground. Several had badly deformed beaks which meant they struggled to eat or drink and sadly they didn’t survive.
Thanks to their new free-range lifestyle, they underwent a dramatic transformation and we saw them turning into beautiful white birds – contented and happy in the knowledge that they were safe.
More Broilers Rescued
The first group was followed by another batch of 11, of which nine became healthy birds who spent their time pottering about in their garden with their new friend Twinkle the cat.
It had become a big thing for people to take on battery hens, but we hoped people might show an interest in broilers and will maybe take them on as pets. We wanted to make them as popular as battery hens.
One of the things research told us is that they would have no personality. That’s not correct at all. Our birds were inquisitive and they learnt quickly. Within a week, they had learned to jump off the side of the horse box [where they lived temporarily on arrival and follow you out to the garden.
The Broiler's Progress
We were delighted with the progress the rescued broiler chickens were making, since arriving into our care. They became happy, contented, inquisitive birds and each developed their very own very different personalities, especially Bertie the Rooster!
These amazing birds were so very pleasant and affectionate and bear no resemblance to the aggressive, unpleasant birds we had been told to expect. We had also been advised that it was pointless to even attempt to rehabilitate these birds, but we decided to persevere regardless and our efforts did not go unrewarded.
The chickens became a source of intrigue for our supporters and the wider public, with many people stopping off to simply inquire how they were getting along and numerous visitors called at the centre to see these avian miracles for themselves.
Those that visited the Sanctuary found themselves greeted by excited curious and very vocal birds, who flocked to the gates, ever hopeful of receiving a tasty morsel or two. People donated feed, meal worms, grapes, blueberries, strawberries and various vegetables all of which they loved and these were hand-fed to them daily, by the centre manager, Lyn Friel and her dedicated team of volunteers.
The chickens also received physiotherapy and even had their own exercise frame, especially designed by one of the volunteers, to assist those who have walking difficulties and to help to build muscle mass, strengthen their limbs and gradually increase restricted mobility.
There was also an ongoing improvement in their general physical condition as they continued to shed their excess pounds and return to normal weight, skin inflammation was much reduced and feather regrowth encouraging, while Bertie the Rooster was being treated for a heart complaint by specialist chicken vets, Jubilee Veterinary Centre in Newtownards.
Six of the residents were re-homed by one of our supporters Lynda Palmer, who was happy to continue the Crosskennan regime with her new flock. This involved monitoring their condition, egg-laying capabilities and longevity for those who are interested in that aspect.
Click Below to find out about some of Specific Broilers and How you can help us learn more about Broilers!
Bert the Broiler
Bert arrived at a little over 7 weeks old in the original group of 13 broiler chickens. He was a curious bird but with the many problems he had, he was lacklustre and naturally nervous. Within a week however he was showing great signs of improvement and jumping out of the horsebox to follow his feed.
Bertie the Rooster was originally being treated for a heart complaint by specialist chicken vets, Jubilee Veterinary Centre in Newtownards. We were then approached by a vet from Lisburn Pets at Home - Vets for Pets who was interested in the work and wanted to help. The vets said that broilers often have problems with their hearts and prescribed Fortekor.
Bert was one of the heaviest broiler chicks to come in to the sanctuary. Vet suggested that this was not doing his mobility any good. Bert walked with an exaggerated waddling gait.
His diet was changed to high fiber low fat pellets. Diet also includes vegetables put through a food processor, including; broccoli, carrots, sweet corn, green beans, peas, courgettes and cabbage. He was fed pellets and veg mix 50/50. Bert was encouraged to search for his own food to encourage natural behaviour. A large proportion of his food was scattered instead of using a bowl.
His mobility was supported by way of a specially made to measure sling made by a retired engineer. The design was simple but effective.
50% of the broiler chickens presented with heart conditions although none presented as serious as Bert.
Bert passed on Autumn 2017 at an age of 1 year 8 months.
Two and a Half Years On!
Saying Goodbye to Ben.
We continually monitored the original broiler chickens, and the additional broilers that were rescued in different lots and the 1 day old chicks that were rescued in the winter of 2016. Over a period of two and a half years we saw their numbers decrease systematically.
It was with a heavy heart that the sanctuary announced the passing of Ben the Broiler, one of the two remaining broilers on site. He was eating well up until the end and running around with his friends. His comb however was noticed becoming less red and more purple. He died from a heart attack on the evening of the 4th October 2018.
Like all of the rescued broilers their genetic breeding had left them highly susceptible to heart, weight and joint problems. We had seen many losses early on in the rescue programme and throughout the 2 and a half years since we first took on the original 13 broilers we have saw systematic losses. The fact is every day they had with us was one more day that they were not supposed to have.
Ben the Broiler was part of the original rescue group which made him an amazing 2 years and 8 months old! When you google the lifespan of a broiler chicken you find this -
“Unlike laying hens (kept for egg production) which live for about a year, broilers only live for several weeks before they are slaughtered. In the EU, the slaughter age ranges from 21 to 170 days (typically around 5 to 7 weeks).”
There is no mention of how old they can live if given the chance although some would suggest as much as 9 years. In comparison hens kept as pets or as backyard layers have an average lifespan of over 5 years with the oldest recorded hen aged 16.
Last Man Standing
Norman the Broiler.
The sanctuary is home to one remaining Broiler, Norman, who was rescued as part of a group of 1 day old chicks that were surplus to requirements. Their young age gave us hope and we thought with the correct nutritional balancing from the start we would see them mature into more natural chicken/hen proportions. This was not the case for many and those that didn’t suffer with weight issues were complicated by heart and joint complaints.
It seemed like there was no hope.
Little Norman is our last man standing, he’s a beautiful white bird with a big red comb and although he has some issues with his left leg he is in good form. He is in good weight and not too heavy; conscious of broilers weight issues we feed him a diet of vegetables and fruit alongside a mix of corn and pellets.
He’s has a lovely nature and lives most of his days in the garden with his friends the blondes, Joan the chicken and Charlie the duck. He will be two years old this winter.
Hope for the Future!
Help us learn more about Broilers!
Crosskennan is now searching for other broilers who have lived beyond what is expected. We want to discover if Ben is a fluke and all broilers die young because of their breeding and associated health problems, or if there is a chance for them to survive longer.
So please send us your stories and photos, we want to see broilers from all over the world. We want to find out if there is a future for broilers beyond a chicken nugget!