Early morning frost
It was a great day for a giant vegan potluck at the sanctuary. I knew it would be when the weather forecast on the local weather blog included the imperative, “get outside on Saturday!”
The morning started out chilly – the blades of grass and the tables that had been set up by PCRM on Thursday had a thin layer of frost. But it was sunny and there was no wind, and it was going to get into the mid 50′s. It’s hard to get much better than that in mid-November!
Malcolm and Ben
After animal chores, we worked on covering the tables. The lack of wind is a big help for this task! Once all the tables were covered, some of us headed into the kitchen to get the food ready for the turkeys and chickens. Lettuce, tofu, grapes, bananas, apples and melons were all cut into the appropriate size for chickens and turkeys. Some bread was crumbled, and cans of corn were opened.
It’s fun to get the turkeys’ tables ready, despite how slimy cut up bananas can make you! There are always a few chickens who come over to get a head start. This year it was a few of The Nine, which was especially cute because it is their first thanksgiving at the sanctuary!
Cindy previewing the tables
People start showing up at about noon, which gives them about an hour to wander around before Terry gives the talk about honoring the turkeys at 1, after which people can start going through the potluck line. I worked the chicken yard, as usual, and got to talk to some friends who came by to say hello.
One of the roosters, Russell, is approaching senior status and hasn’t been getting along with the other two roosters in his area, so we’d been rotating them in and out so that they’d all have outside time, but without conflict. He was on indoor time at that point, but I thought he might be okay with being held for a little while. Sure enough, he was content to be held and I was able to let quite a few people pet him. One of my friends was there with her three kids, and one of the kids is named Russell. They were pretty tickled to meet each other!
Someone nearby asked me about the feet of chickens, and here’s where it was really handy to have dinosaur-mad little boys around! They were able to explain the feet of chickens much better than I would have, and everyone was charmed.
A few minutes before Terry starts her talk, those of us working the chicken area do our best to encourage the turkeys to go up front and center. This is generally accomlished with bribes! This year we brought the tables that we prepared for the turkeys and chickens into the chicken yard before Terry’s talk so they’d stick around. Of course there was the somewhat typical and comical bird drama, with the guineas chasing everyone away from the food, and then three or four of us doing our best to herd the guineas inside so everyone else would have a chance to eat!
Hugo, the “challenging” turkey, even had his chance to come out and be admired. And for a few minutes he and Victor were even coexisting peacefully while Hugo was entranced by the treats on the tables. That only lasted a few minutes, and then Carole had to bring Hugo back inside, where he had his own table that he shared with the bunnies. Someday I am sure Hugo will calm down a bit. For now, we rotate them to avoid conflict.
The feast for the turkeys and chickens. Hugo is eating at the table, and Victor is displaying at the edge of the picture.
After Terry’s talk we were mobbed again with people wanting to meet the chickens. I went up to the house to get Harrison. Bringing him down to the chicken yard was a very slow process, because I had to stop every few feet for more people to meet and pet him. He was his usual wonderful self during the event, capturing hearts left and right. There was one little girl who asked to hold him every few minutes. She was very good about giving him up as soon as someone else wanted to hold him, I just had to keep an eye on her, because she’d wander off with him! She wasn’t the only one who did that. It was kind of funny, though it freaked me out at the time.
The new silkie hen, Audrey, who is still sporting yellow and green paint from being spraypainted before she was rescued, did really well. She’s a sweetheart, but she’s only been at the sanctuary a couple of weeks, and no one really knew how she’d do. She was unphased by the attention. She prefers to perch on people’s arms rather than being held, but she was very happy to let everyone pet her.
One of the best things about having a rooster like Harrison, who falls asleep in people’s arms and complains if he is on the ground because he wants to be held, is that so many people just never imagined that roosters could be so sweet. Many have never held a chicken before, or even imagined it. Many have never touched a bird of any kind. You can see the impact on them as they get to touch and hold Harrison or one of the other chickens who doesn’t mind being held.
And then invariably there are questions about whether all chickens like to be held, and we can point to all the hens and roosters running about in the yard doing their chicken things, and absolutely not wanting to be picked up. I think it is important for people to see that, and to understand that it is really up to the chickens themselves, and that they have their own distinct personalities and preferences. Our primary focus is on the animals – their safety, well-being, and happiness – but for those who do like being held, or don’t mind it in limited doses, we take advantage of that. No one can do outreach like the animals themselves can. And that outreach is critical – most animals aren’t lucky enough to be rescued by a sanctuary and the best way to help them is to reach people’s hearts, and thus minds, and encourage them to avoid participating in animal exploitation.
There are a lot of myths out there about chickens. That they are dumb is one of the dumbest. Chickens have cognition at the level of primates. They have many different calls, and they distinguish in their warning calls the size and general type (land versus air) of predator.
I had several questions from people who were surprised to see that there were multiple roosters in the yard together, coexisting (mostly!) peacefully, which exposed another myth. I was also able to point out to some visitors when Julius was calling his girls over to show them the great food he’d found (the entire tableful of food!). I showed them that he was picking up food and dropping it to make sure his girls saw it. Of course they were chowing down and were pretty much ignoring him, but he was doing his best to be a gentleman anyway.
Julius, Gretchen and Amber
I shocked one person by explaining to them that chickens are tropical birds, that they are native to the jungles of asia. Their jaw dropped. I’m not sure what people think about, or if they ever do think about the fact that chickens are native wild birds somewhere. I think that many people don’t think beyond KFC or the packages they see of bird parts in the supermarket. Or maybe even the footage from the farms and slaughterhouses – the graphic footage exposes cruelty, but it doesn’t do anything to confront the wrong-headed idea that chickens are just automatons, that they are just generic flesh and blood machines.
That way of thinking gets embedded in people’s minds without them even realizing it, and until or unless that thinking is challenged, they’ll continue to think that what what they see in the undercover footage, or what they see in the stores is all that chickens are. But if you take the time to watch the chickens, you’ll see so much wild bird behavior in them. You’ll see them keeping an eye out for arial predators (they will track airplanes flying in the sky), perch in trees (the girls rescued from a fighting cock breeding ring especially), hunt for bugs and seeds in the grass, go through courting rituals, dust-bathe, sun-bathe, and negotiate an ever-changing social structure. It took me a while of coming to the sanctuary to really “see” these birds for the amazing creatures that they are, but of all the animals at the sanctuary they are the most fascinating. I can watch them for hours and be captivated the whole time.
As has become pretty common, there were people from a couple news sources there. One photographer was a woman from the Washington Post, and I recognized her from previous years. Her photos are online, and really tell a wonderful story about the day. The associated article, on the other hand, was pretty stupid and borderline malicious, so don’t read it unless you are in the mood to be angry.
Wash Post photographer meeting Alina
At 3pm people gathered up the pumpkins that had decorated the tables and some of the bigger ones on the ground, and headed to the pig yard to feed the pigs some pumpkins. Everyone loves this, and apparently people were standing in line to get to the fence to throw their pumpkins! There were so many pumpkins thrown into the pig yard that hours later, after the event was over and the sun had set and all the tables and chairs had been collected and hauled onto the trailer, the pigs were STILL out there munching on pumpkins!
Of course the event is always fun on a personal level too. The energy of a 900 person vegan potluck is pretty intense! And I have friends who come from various places – Harrisonburg, Philly, Baltimore – who I don’t get to see very often, plus all the local people who I don’t see very often, so it ends up feeling like a reunion of sorts.
I was more neglectful of taking during-event pictures than normal, so I don’t have much to show in pictures for what was a really fantastic day, but I felt like it was one of the best thanksgiving events we’ve had. Everything seemed to go so smoothly – from the animal chores to covering the tables to the event itself – and everyone who stopped by the chicken yard seemed to be cheerful and relaxed. Even the little kids, who sometimes get upset when they have to give a chicken they’re holding to the next person waiting or who have to wait while we find a “little chicken” who is ameniable to being held, were really calm and understanding about sharing and waiting. I think I recognized most of the kids from previous events – maybe it was just a sign of them being experienced with how things go in the chicken yard!
As always after events, I vow to take more pictures next time. I’m so glad that the Washington Post photographer was there, and that such great pictures got into their online gallery. So many of her pictures are of moments I kicked myself for not getting after the event was over!
sunset at the sanctuary