Would the chickens on a certain farm in the Wairarapa – those that are still alive, that is – vote for the Greens, if the franchise was widened to include chooks?
At first blush, they would vote Green, because the Green Party has championed their welfare for years.
In October last year – for example – the Greens joined animal rights groups in calling on the Government to reject the use of colony cages for layer hens.
At that time, the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA) and Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) called a press conference to announce their opposition to the cages.
The Green Party’s animal welfare spokesperson then was Sue Kedgley, now retired from parliamentary politics (hurrah).
She said the Greens would join the groups in petitioning Minister of Agriculture David Carter on the matter.
The Government was considering colony cages as a replacement for battery cages, as recommended by the draft Code of Animal Welfare.
But the RNZSPCA was saying “a cage is a cage is a cage” and there would be no improvement in the hens’ living conditions.
The groups say the egg industry should be moving to free-range or barn systems instead of cages.
“Colony cages offer no significantly better conditions for hens than those they are currently enduring,” RNZSPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger says.
SAFE director Hans Kriek says the cages have the same “basic welfare problems” as battery cages and must not be legalised in New Zealand.
Kedgley relished pitching in whenever these opportunities arose, and sure enough, she pitched in on this occasion.
“If people saw colony cages close up they would be horrified,” she says.
“I’ve seen hens in these colony cages – and they are really no different to battery hen cages – they are just as unspeakably cruel.”
Farming the chooks in a free-range environment does not free them from dependence on farmers.
So wouldn’t it be be better to give them total freedom plus political independence – a bit like the sovereignty sought by Maori radicals?
Maybe we should chat with the chooks first.
Maybe they like being farmer-dependent, except, perhaps, those that are stronger than the others and are bound to prosper at their expense.
Alf makes these observations having read that –
Dozens of dead chickens have been found at an abandoned free-range egg farm where starving birds are suspected of turning to cannibalism.
About 50 carcasses were found at the rural Martinborough property last month after council inspectors were tipped off by a concerned neighbour.
The few surviving birds were found living without supplied food, in manure more than half a metre deep, according to a neighbour.
So what’s going on here?
The SPCA is reported to have visited the farm in August last year but found “no issues with welfare”, despite the property having clearly been abandoned.
And if the property was clearly abandoned, the chooks should have been in a sort of poultry paradise in which they could enjoyed their total independence.
They have had several months to enjoy their freedom, because –
South Wairarapa District Council planning and environment manager Glenn Bunny said neighbours reported not seeing any activity on the property for about eight months.
But did the birds establish their own paradise?
It depends on your idea of paradise, maybe.
“When we went to check the property there were a number of chicken carcasses in various stages of decomposition, and around 10 live chickens.”
A neighbour is reported to have said that, at its peak, the 7.7-hectare farm – now on the market – had held about 1000 birds and produced 900-1000 eggs per day.
The neighbour said many of the chickens had been culled before the property was abandoned last winter, but 200-300 birds had been left to fend for themselves.
“In one of the chook houses there was probably about 2ft (0.6m) of manure, and the rats had got in and gone through it, so basically it looked like Swiss cheese.
“I’d say a fair bit of cannibalism had gone on as well.”
The remaining birds had been killed by predators, died of exposure or been run over, he said.
This reminds Alf more than somewhat of political philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ description of life in the state of nature as “nasty, brutish and short”.