I drove 140 miles to Eastern Shore Sanctuary this weekend. It is on the (you might guess) eastern shore of Maryland, right in the middle of chicken land (by which I mean chickens-raised-for-short-lives-and-horrible-deaths land), and I have the utmost admiration for Pattrice Jones and Miriam Jones, who co-founded the sanctuary. The sanctuary is home mostly to chickens, but also a few ducks and cats and dogs. Karen Davis has done something similar on the eastern shore of Virginia, with United Poultry Concerns.
They certainly are located in an area where they can directly help many chickens, where chickens need a lot of help. The trucks filled with live chickens on the way to slaughter rumble by the sanctuary, and many of the residents have come to Eastern Shore Sanctuary by virtue of escaping the truck as they are on their way to their death. Many chickens who do this come to an immediate end on the hard asphalt, but some lucky ones survive and are brought to the sanctuary to live out their lives.
Their short lives. Even after being rescued, the genetic abuse they have been subjected to shortens their lives to about a year. By then their skeletons are overwhelmed by the massive size their bodies grow to, and they often die of sudden heart attacks.
But on this particular sunny, gorgeous day, we got to see chickens “sleeping like the dead” but alive and basking in the sun, nibbling on food, exploring their world. When they lay sprawled on the ground to nap in the sun, completely still, they really do look like they are sleeping the long sleep. Pattrice says they routinely fool her when they do this, and it is easy to see how! Despite the time I’ve spent at Poplar Spring and the few visits to Peaceful Prairie, I had never seen chickens doing this. There is always something new to learn.
We mucked out the chicken’s main barn, and hosed it down. It was the first nice day in quite a while, and warm enough that it would have time to dry. We cleared areas of the yard to make them more chicken friendly, and curious types that they are, they wandered to where we were working, delighted to find yummy green things growing in this area they had been ignoring. We examined the solar panels powering the pond’s pump with curiosity and envy, as well as a sort of vicarious satisfaction – Pattrice is one to live her beliefs with every action. She is as passionate about the environment as she is about animal rights and human rights, but she doesn’t just talk about it. She teaches kids at a local college, she runs a sanctuary for chickens, and she lives as green as she can possibly manage, composting toilet and all.
We didn’t check out the composting toilet, but we did absorb the peace of being away from the city, at a sanctuary that creates a world within its boundaries that the world around it really should strive toward. The chickens get to choose whether to roost in the trees, go feral, or spend their nights in the barn. They can decide for themselves what they prefer, between safety and absolute freedom.
The sanctuary feels very much like a it was set down there from a different planet. The peace and the joy on the property, the far reaching impact the sanctuary has on those who visit, that Pattrice has on those she teaches, talks to, and on those who read her writing; it is all so different from the surrounding area, from what you’d naturally expect from an area where there are chicken farms just barely out of sight in at least two directions.
Pattrice has a way of making you think. At least, she makes me think. I am so glad that I’m only 140 miles away. I’ll be going back.