Beefree Designs was conceived after being inspired by reading Jo Barlow’s
book ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Caring For Ex-Batts’ Up to that point I had known nothing about ex-battery hens or what these girls have gone through in their previous lives as caged hens.
This had opened my eyes to the cruelty that we as human beings inflict on defencesless animals in the name of food production, cosmetics, medical research and entertainment to name but a few. This inhumane treatment has to stop and there is an alternative to this barbaric treatment. There is a better way if we only took time to sit back and look at all animals and see the beauty that lies within not just with domestic but also wild animals.
I have been involved in the creative arts as well as being an animal lover all my life, and was so moved, that it inspired me to make my first collection of works based on the stories of ex-batts, especially of one heroic individual, Effie, who lived her productive life with a broken neck but was rescued before slaughter. Her huge personality and big heart full of forgiveness showed so much love and affection not only to other hens but to her new human owners. If only we as a species could have half of what this one little bird has shown me, then this world would be a far better place.
The inspiration that Effie and others like her who suffered in silence, mutilated at birth and then disposed of to be rendered down as worthless by-products has shown me that they all have hugely diverse and interesting personalities, just like us humans.
Through the horror of what I have seen and learnt, I am now committed to helping as many of these poor creatures as I can by supporting the various charities that help these girls. Each series of art works produced will donate a percentage to the respective hen welfare charities. In my work I hope to illustrate how we see these
creatures in varying contexts, both in a natural or caricature style, some of which will be humorous and some showing a simple natural beauty. After all art imagery can be a powerful way of communication that also touches your soul and heart.
To quote Edgar’s Mission, a farm animal sanctuary in Australia:-
‘If we could live happy & healthy lives without harming others, then why wouldn’t we?’
Inspiration for Ex-Batts Series
Jo Barlow has a micro-sanctuary and rescues ex-commercial hens in Cornwall. Jo’s writings on the suffering that these poor creatures have gone through have been both heart wrenching and heartwarming, learning about their resilience, forgiveness and how they manage to find an enthusiasm for life, after all they have suffered. We treat these hens, and unfortunately many farmed animals, with one objective, to make as much money as possible with these poor creatures treated like objects /commodities as if they had no feelings and were already dead.
I can only imagine how it felt to be in a concentration camp during the Second World War and how sickened the world was to learn the truth of what was going on behind closed doors. How one human could treat another with such distain and cruelty and how the world hunted down the perpetrators of such horrors. Yet 80 years after this we are still carrying out the same behavior on domesticated animals reared not just for food production but for by-products and research. There is no difference between commercial hen farming and concentration camps.
Chicks, at one day old, are separated into sexes: the male chicks are either thrown live into grinders or gassed whilst the unlucky ones, the females, are taken and are de-beaked by a laser beam, something that supposedly stops them harming each other in the cages. However, this procedure deprives the bird of a very important sensory feedback from the tip of their beak and can also be a source of chronic pain, not to mention those for whom the procedure is bodged and are unable to feed themselves and slowly starve to death.
The old fashioned misconceived view of ‘bird brain’ which has always implied chickens and turkeys as unthinking, unfeeling creatures is outdated and spectacularly wrong. Scientists have proved that amazing ‘bird brains’ have remarkable cognitive abilities on a par with dogs, cats and toddlers, in fact, areas of our human brains that are important for high level cognition, such as long term memory and problem solving, have been found to be wired up to other regions of the brain in the same way as hens. With the ability to learn, teach, and empathize, they also have long and short term memories, the ability to recognize up to 80 other hens, communicate in a sophisticated manner with each other, with a range of vocal messages, as well as the ability to anticipate future events, such as, looking forward to a treat, or understanding a fearful situation. They have shown that they have the ability to problem solve and are self aware, and having a keen understanding of being able to self assess within the context of their complex hierarchical structure. They can express emotions, for example, anxiety, frustration, loss, empathy, grief and contentedness. They are even brilliant time keepers. It is scientifically proven that birds have intelligence further and above what was previously thought. As humans, perhaps we devalue the intelligence of these wonderful creatures because it makes the fact that we use and abuse them, eating them in their millions, easier on our collective consciences. If we stopped for a moment, and realized the intelligent, compassionate, individual souls that reside in the body of a ‘humble hen’ then maybe we would think before treating them as we do.
If chickens have enough room to move about, are kept in clean healthy conditions, in an environment suited to their needs, are allowed room to run and nest, to forage and dust bath in free range conditions, their natural behaviour will be that of displaying impressive social skills, always looking out for one another, be it friend or family. It is not good enough that in today’s civilized society that we are treating these intelligent sentient creatures with such distain. These are inquisitive creatures, each with a different personality just like us, and what is completely remarkable for the few who are rescued and found homes (when, they become commercially unviable after 18 months of intensive laying) is that they show remarkable resilience, reverting to their natural behaviours within minutes of being rescued. The have big, bold hearts that match their indefatigable characters, and with spirits as strong as any creature on this planet, human or non-human, they show a sense of love and forgiveness that is an inspiration to all of us that are blessed to care for them.
“Saving one hen will not change the world, but it will change the world for that hen”
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world:
Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead