Remembering Katrina and 725 Chickens We Saved #AnimalRescue #HurricaneKatrina

It’s been 11 years since Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. As we honor those individuals — human and animal — who lost their lives in the storm, we also pause to remember hundreds of chickens whose lives were saved.


A refreshing drink after a very long and stressful journey to our Watkins Glen sanctuary


The truck arrived with over 700 new resident chickens and humanimals Mario Ramirez and Bob Doughty opening fencing to bring in more birds.


Humanimal Bob Doughty helping to unload the babies from the truck.


Arriving emaciated, with septic joints, dehydrated and with multiple injuries we went through each of the 750 birds to insure each got the individualized care they needed.


Mako and his gal pal Whiteness.


Not a stitch of grass remained and areas were re-fenced often to get these girls some foliage.


The girls just a few weeks after their arrival- feeling good and exploring their world.


A sea of hens; many placed through our Farm Animal Adoption Network.


Kate Walker, who went to get the birds and is seen below pulling them from graves, gets a moment to relax months after their arrival with her healthy flock of friends.


The girls growing up and loving people. Samantha Pachirat talking to some of the Katrina ladies months after their rescue.

 


KATRINA AND FARM ANIMALS: BY THE NUMBERS

725: Chickens saved by Farm Sanctuary in the days following Katrina. All of them were brought to our New York Shelter for care. They had a variety of health problems — some caused by the storm’s aftermath, many simply the result of standard industry practice. Their problems ranged from septic joints to severe digestive issues, from gangrene to broken toes. One had a large head wound; another was found with her eyes swollen shut. Many had gone days without food or water. The sick and injured birds received care ranging from treatment with painkillers, steroids and antibiotics to major surgery.

200+: The number of birds that were taken in by other sanctuaries or adopted by private individuals. The compassionate people who took in these chickens not only provided lifelong care for animals who had suffered so much — they also made it possible for us to say yes to many more chickens in need. (If you are interested in providing a permanent, loving home for a farm animal, please consider becoming a part of Farm Sanctuary’s Farm Animal Adoption Network!)

635 million: The estimated number of farm animals being raised for food in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi when Katrina made landfall. Millions of them died.

9: Years that KC, the last of our Katrina survivors, lived after her rescue.

6: Weeks a typical “broiler” chicken lives before she is killed for meat.


THE RESCUE

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Miyun Park, Kate Walker and Peter Wood pull a chicken from a pit

Farm Sanctuary rescuers — working with other groups — traveled to devastated areas, searching for surviving farm animals in need of rescue and negotiating the release of animals from area farms. Rescuers reported mass graves of dead birds, demolished warehouses confining tens of thousands of birds, and fields littered with dead chickens — and live chickens running for their lives.

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Many of the chickens pulled from the burial pits needed the most help to recover.  

Sadly, the industry views these animals as commodities rather than living, feeling beings. “Clean-up” crews were sent to bulldoze damaged buildings, with live animals still trapped inside, and to discard the debris and bodies as trash.

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“We saw a massive open grave containing thousands of dead chickens… Shockingly, 21 were still alive, huddled in the corner of the pit,” Farm Sanctuary rescuer Kate Walker later recalled of her experience at a Mississippi poultry farm under contract with Tyson. A tornado spawned by the hurricane had completely destroyed one of its warehouses and severely damaged two others. Working tirelessly, our crew pulled trapped and injured chickens from the wreckage, examined them, and prepared them for transport to safety.

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Because there was no time to lose getting them to the sanctuary we could not stop and have blood work done so because of disease concerns our sanctuary area where they birds were housed was quarantined, meaning none of the birds could be taken off site and to a vet until each one was tested and results were back.

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Because of that we were able to establish a relationship with the exotics department at Cornell, who came out and did work on the most serious cases including Ginger (who you can read about below), and the birds from the burial pits.

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They also were instrumental in doing crop removal surgeries, due to the birds having pica and destroying the muscles of the crop (first part of the digestive tract of the bird) by overeating anything they could find including bedding, rocks and even their own feathers.  More than 40 of these surgeries were necessary to keep these birds alive.

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We learned so much about this breed of bird because of this rescue and now have so many ways to help keep them healthy and happy for many years based on that knowledge.


THE SURVIVORS

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Mako, one of about 250 roosters rescued from Katrina who even with his super heavy body lived with us for years.  

Mako was the largest of the birds. Because “broilers” are typically killed at such a young age, those who breed and raise them don’t give any consideration to their long-term health.

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Those birds with septic joints and leg injuries were put in slings throughout the day to help build muscle in their legs and take weight off their injured joints.  

They grow at an alarming pace (in the past 50 years, the amount a broiler grows each day has increased by more than 300%), but terribly few have the opportunity to live to maturity. We kept these birds on a strict diet for health reasons, and even on that diet, Mako weighed nearly 16 pounds — the size of a wild turkey!

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Sweet Ginger arrived with gangrene and missing toes but turned out to be one of the happiest of the hens once she recovered. 

Ginger’s unique and resilient spirit left an imprint on all who met her. She was one of the many thousands of chickens bulldozed into huge pits after the hurricane. Rescuers found her in one of these pits struggling to survive and suffering from severe gangrene. Her will to live was remarkable! She eventually had part of her foot removed as a result of the gangrene, but even this couldn’t dampen her spirits. Through all her struggles, Ginger remained cheerful, active and outgoing.

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KC at Farm Sanctuary lived the longest of all the hens from the rescue and passed away in late 2014.

KC was the longest-lived of the birds. When newly rescued, she was among dozens of chickens who required surgery to remove the crop, a digestive organ that stores food and starts breaking it down. She survived the storm, its aftermath and a severe health problem, and went on to live nine more years!

Cranberry and her friends took shelter under bushes and ate berries to survive. The berry bushes left purple stains on their feathers: a mark of their intelligence and will to live!

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Greger was one of the most badly injured birds we rescued. He was found with a severe head wound, but within a few weeks his condition was greatly improved. Through the generosity of our supporters, we were able to add a new nursery shed to our New York Shelter, which housed the sickest and most badly injured of the rescued chickens, including Greger.

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PROVIDING LIFELONG CARE

Mako, Ginger, KC, Cranberry, Greger and the other rescued chickens provided the equivalent of a master course on caring for factory-farmed Cornish chickens. To this day, these birds hold a Farm Sanctuary record that comes with unfortunate health implications: They remain the largest members of their breed that we’ve ever had at the shelter.

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Susie holds Mako.  He constantly needed foot wraps due to his huge size which caused pressure sores on his foot pads.  Thankfully there was no infection.  

In addition to the issues caused directly by Katrina, these birds had to contend with a host of health problems that were the result of standard industry practices. They were bred to grow too big, too fast, and that left many of them with weight-related health problems — from blown ligaments to infected feet to rickets. A number fell victim to a sudden-death syndrome so common in broiler chickens that the industry gave it a name: “flip-over disease.” (Factory-farm broilers typically reach slaughter weight when they’re 42 days old, but many don’t even make it that long — it’s common for them to die even earlier from heart failure, ascites, and other conditions related to their size and diet.)

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These birds were just babies and so weak from their experience but also from the trip.  

One hundred of the chickens arrived at Farm Sanctuary with septic joints. Many had problems with their crops. Since these birds were genetically altered to eat excessive amounts of food, they will often impulsively eat straw or other materials when no other food is available. These materials then become lodged in the crop or in the digestive tract, or the sheer mass actually stretches out the crop so far that the muscles no longer work. Some crop problems were successfully treated with antibiotics and anti-fungal medications, but more than 40 of the chickens, including KC, required corrective surgery at Cornell University Hospital for Animals. Three chickens had developed gangrene as a result of smashed, broken toes that had been left untreated.

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Mako and Stanley cat at Farm Sanctuary

When the birds came to Farm Sanctuary, they received their own full-time caregiver. Every one of the interns at our New York Shelter was involved in caring for the birds, as were a number of volunteers.

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Our amazing interns and volunteers worked tirelessly each day with the more seriously injured and sick birds.  

They dispensed painkillers, antibiotics, ligament supplements and IV fluids; they wrapped the feet and taped the joints of birds struggling with leg problems because of their weight; they held birds aloft in sling bags to keep their weight off their feet.

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Each bird receiving care had a daily chart (this was a three times daily treatment chart) and many, like Twiddlebug, loved to hang out on those charts while you worked on them.  

Hundreds of the birds were placed in sanctuaries or with caring adopters. The remaining birds lived out their lives at Farm Sanctuary. The roosters, victims of their larger size, generally lived shorter lives than the hens; our oldest boy lived five years at Farm Sanctuary after his rescue. Many of the hens had six to nine happy years at our New York Shelter.

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After lives in dim, crowded warehouses, these resilient birds took to the airy barns and sunlit pastures of the shelter with relish. While many didn’t have the long, healthy lives we would have wished for them, all had the opportunity to know love and kindness.

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Baby Mako looking out over the flock.  The boys sadly have to be separated from the girls once they reach sexual maturity because they actually can seriously hurt them during normal mating behavior.  


IMAGES FROM THE FIELD

What follows are photos from our rescue mission. Please note that some are graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.

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A chicken wanders on a devastated farm in the aftermath of Katrina.

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Peter Wood works to pull chickens from a pit.

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A bulldozer used as part of the “clean-up” effort on a Mississippi farm.


RESOURCES

While a natural disaster was the reason we became involved with these 725 chickens, many of the problems they faced were the result of standard industry practices that affect billions of birds.

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The crowd goes wild.  The girls growing up too quickly – just a few weeks after their arrival to the sanctuary. 

Learn more about the way chickens are raised for meat and, if what you read moves you to act, find out how to get involved. If you’re already advocating for animals and are looking for ways to expand on your efforts, we encourage you to join our Compassionate Communities Campaign. And if you’d like to help farm animals by changing your eating habits, V-Lish is a great place for tips and recipes!

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Many compassionate people helped us with this rescue by supporting us financially; by working with us as interns; and by offering adoptive homes. We remain grateful to them and to all who have supported us for the past 30 years in our work on behalf of farm animal rescue, caregiving, and advocacy. Thank you for sharing our stories and for putting compassion first.

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