The First Time I Held a Chicken
The first time I held a chicken I cried - I mean, ugly cried. The chicken was a Silkie, black and beautiful, being raised by a neighbour who was getting into the backyard chicken movement. I was struck by how tiny her body was, how fragile she seemed. My fingers explored her frame and felt the familiar 'drumstick', the breast bone, the bony wings. I had held many chicken parts in my hands as I readied to eat them, but to see those connected to a real, living, breathing and warm being shocked me to my core. She looked up at me with nothing but trust and love. Then came the tears. My neighbour was confused and embarrassed for me, looked away and busied himself with something. I put the chicken down gently. Rather than running away from me, she stood there, looking up at me, seemingly wanting to be picked up again. It was a strange, almost mystical experience.
I went about my life - still a vegetarian (I had been since I was 13) but not experiencing another chicken until I started doing farmed animal cruelty investigations. It was inevitable that I'd cross paths with chickens again. Then it happened. My colleague and I were documenting trailers crammed with birds at a Quebec chicken slaughterhouse (7,000-11,000 chickens are stuffed onto each trailer). While we were inspecting and filming the trailers, we saw that one of the drivers had failed to install the dividers between the columns of stacked crates. When he had slammed on the brakes, the columns fell forward, forcibly ejecting birds and leaving some lodged or crushed between the crates. We worked to right the crates to reach the birds. We were too late for many, but one was still alive. We named her Ginette.