The Im‘peck’able Adventures of Liisa Winkler: A visit to hen heaven
by: Liisa Winkler, WSPA Canada Ambassador and supermodel
Intensive Livestock Operations (aka factory farms) create so much environmental damage. They use more land and water than any other human activity and contaminate the air, water and soil of the rural communities in which they exist. Hens in factory farms are clearly not happy. They live in very small cages without room to even open their wings.
I'm sure these are some of the reasons that Marianne and Svante Lind, founders of SWEDA, decided to switch their large scale egg operation to a smaller scale cage-free one. Only one year ago, these buildings were home up to 90,000 hens and now about 300 live here in complete birdy heaven.
The hens at SWEDA are truly the healthiest, most peaceful hens I have ever met (and I have met a LOT lately!). When our rather large group walks into the "chicken run" area with our oversized plastic booties and video cameras, the ladies hardly flutter a feather. A few venture over and I find myself loving the feel of their gentle pecking against my "protective plastic bootie coated leg". Marianne takes us on a tour of the large indoor area and introduces us to one of her favourite girls whom she calls Beauty. She has given names to quite a few of them.
We are lucky to have Dr. Ian Duncan here with our group and he gives us a quick lesson in hen anatomy. Of particular interest is the tiny little oil gland he locates for us on the hens back. Every day the hen will lick this gland (yes chickens have cute little tongues!) and spread the oil over its feathers. If the oil sits for too long, it will go rancid which is one reason why regular dust bathing is so important for the hens.
Next we are taken to an enormous outdoor area. They could probably double the amount of hens here and still have a very happy flock!
The hens are scattered all over the place, engaged in various hen-like activities. I am immediately intrigued by the little heads I can barely see peeking out of the grass. They look as though they are being swallowed up by the earth or perhaps playing dead! Of course they are simply doing something that the average person might never get to see -Dust Bathing! It is obviously very pleasurable for them, as they roll around like dogs pushing every part of their bodies into the earth. The holes that they are digging (or scratching) are quite deep and they share them with other birds.
And now I must confess, I have never really felt entirely comfortable around hens. Don't get me wrong, I love all animals and think that they all deserve to live happy healthy lives, but sometimes you need to see an animal in its natural environment to really understand it. This happened for me today at SWEDA. I love these birds! Watching them interact, wiggle around in the dirt and catch bugs helps me to see their true animal nature. If everyone could visit this wonderful model farm, I have no doubt that there would be a lot more cage-free eggs bought and even more happy birds.
SWEDA has truly been transformed into a humane and loving home for hens - that can still produce about 1,900 eggs per week. When you look at how well this new system works, you have to wonder why anyone would ever want to do anything differently.