Sandra van de Werd, “Red een Legkip”
Sandra van de Werd is the founder of Red een Legkip (“Save a laying Hen”), a Dutch organization that rescues retired laying hens from slaughter by buying them from farmers when they’re scheduled to go to the slaughterhouse. Red een Legkip then keeps the hens in their shelters and nurse them back to health before potential adopters are allowed to take them home. Because of the efforts of this remarkable animal rescue group, countless chickens that have spent their lives in miserable circumstances finally get the chance to live out the rest of their lives in good homes.
Can you introduce yourself and the organization Red een Legkip?
Red een Legkip has been around for three years now. It’s an initiative of the Dutch Stichting Comité Dierennoodhulp (Committee for animals in need).
I was the one who founded Red een Legkip: it all started when I asked for two battery hens as a birthday present. It was quite difficult to get them, and when I finally succeeded in buying them from a chicken “factory”, the idea for Red een Legkip was born. I thought there must be more people like me, willing to save these chickens from slaughter by giving them a worthy second life.
I wrote a book about my rescued chickens: “Isabel en Annabel in de sneeuw” (“Isabel and Annabel in the snow”). In the book, chicken Isabel tells her story: how she lived her life in a factory farm, until one day, she and another chicken (Annabel) are bought by a lady (me), and given a second chance at life. Now, her real life as a chicken can begin. She has one wish: that her sisters in the chicken industry can be given the same chance.
The book got published, and one year after having received Isabel and Annabel as a gift, I founded Red een Legkip. It started with two shelters, but it soon became clear that there were many people who wanted to adopt retired laying hens, and so we started up more shelters to accommodate more chickens.
In the beginning, I did everything myself. Luckily now I have volunteers that help a lot with all the work. But I still coordinate everything: attending to the press, informing potential adopters… I also take care of the sick chickens that need to go to the vet. And I work with Comité Dierennoodhulp to help other animals in need (pets as well as industrial animals). The thought behind all of this is that every animal has the right to live a free life, and should be treated with respect.
Your organization is active in the Netherlands and Belgium. Do you know if similar initiatives exist in other countries?
Yes. While I was preparing and doing research to found Leg een Redkip, I found out that England has an organization called Little Hen Rescue, that also saves laying hens from being slaughtered. I’ve had contact with their spokesperson Jo Eglen while I was busy founding my own organization. Germany and Ireland have similar initiatives as well. On the site of Red een Legkip you can find links to the websites of these groups, since it’s our goal to all work together for the same cause.
How exactly does Red een Legkip operate?
When chickens retire and are scheduled to go to the slaughterhouse, we offer an alternative to the farmer: we buy the chickens for the same price as the slaughterhouse would offer, and have them re-homed. Some farmers work with us, others not at all. Our golden rule is that we don’t offer the farmer a higher price than the slaughterhouse. After all, we don’t want to make them any richer. The price for slaughter is between 50 euro cent and 1 euro. So to the farmer, these chickens are practically worthless.
Chickens from the farmers in the Netherlands mostly go to slaughterhouses in Belgium, and the majority of these slaughtered birds afterwards get shipped off to Africa.
Since most farmers handle their poultry in a very rough way, we always ask if we can catch the chickens ourselves. Then we gently place them in special chicken crates, that are well ventilated and are lined with a rubber mat to prevent the chickens from slipping and breaking something.
They then get transported to our shelters, where we check all the birds individually. Sometimes a chicken has cloacal prolapse, and we have to take them to the vet to have them stitched up. Sometimes birds are in such an overall bad condition that we have to keep them under a heat lamp and have to force feed them to get them healthy again. We also give our birds extra vitamins.
Depending on their state of health, we keep the chickens at the shelter for a minimum of two weeks before re-homing them, because in the beginning they are very stressed and unhealthy, and they need this time to adjust and get better.
How can people adopt a chicken from Red een Legkip?
If people want to adopt our chickens, we have a special form on our website that they can fill out to apply for adoption. There are a couple of conditions that possible adopters have to accept, however: the birds will have to be allowed to live out their natural lives, and can of course never be slaughtered. They cannot be used for breeding, and they must be given enough space to roam. (For two chickens a space of 2×3 meters is a minimum. The best option is if they can run freely in the garden and at night are enclosed in their coop for safety).
When the adopters accept these conditions, and have paid the adoption fee of 7,5 euros, we give them the adoption contract and an invitation to pick up their birds at one of our seven shelters.
The adoption fee is so we can cover some of the costs that we make, like caring for the birds at our shelters, veterinary costs, and transportation. Luckily we also receive donations sometimes, because we can not cover all our costs with just the adoption fees.
What is the best part of your job?
That’s easy! It’s wonderful that we can save these frightened animals, after a lifetime of torture. It’s also great to see how they revive: anxious, depressed birds turn into confident, beautiful chickens that enjoy life. And it’s amazing to see how well they’re doing in their new homes. We also notice that we raise awareness regarding animal welfare in the bio-industry: some people become vegetarian or vegan after having adopted our chickens, which is fantastic. In turn, these people inform their friends and relatives. So in a way, the chickens we save play a role in making people aware of how terrible the bio industry really is.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
That you can’t save all of them. We always have to leave so many chickens behind… It’s also very hard being confronted with how horribly animals are being treated in the industry. So-called “free range” chickens sometimes never see the light of day and have no possibilities to indulge in their natural behaviors. Even biological chickens don’t have it much better: they have very short lives (12 to 14 months) and when their time has come, they are caught equally rough-handedly as the other birds: afterwards there are heaps of dead chickens (see photo), but no consumer ever gets to witness this.
And then there still are the caged hens, whose reality is even worse than I thought. Sometimes, when I have a nearly dead, injured chicken on my lap, I just want to cry because of how we humans treat these animals. But the consumer determines what’s for sale, and most people still want as much as possible, for the cheapest possible price. The indifference of people towards the bad treatment of animals shocks me.
Have you yourself adopted any chickens through Red een Legkip?
Yes! Right now, I have seven of them running around in my garden, and one is inside in sick-bay.
Do you have any other adopted pets? Can you tell us about them?
I have a couple of rabbits in my garden. One is rescued from the meat industry, and the other three were dumped by people who didn’t want to care for them any longer. I have two dogs: one saved from death, the other rescued from a shelter. I also took in a cat that was no longer wanted. I occasionally care for sick or injured pigeons and release them when they’re better.
I think it’s important that, when you have animals, you allow them to be themselves. I don’t see my animals as my “possessions”. I put social animals together (the rabbits are neutered), give them the necessary space and allow them to indulge in their natural behaviors.
Can people help your organization in other ways than by adopting a chicken?
Of course people can support us by donating. (Donations are deductible from taxes). All the money we get, goes to the care of our rescued chickens.
You can also support us by buying the book of chicken Isabel (in Dutch).
We can also really use more volunteers to help us out with raising awareness: we would like to approach schools with an educational package, but for the moment we don’t have enough helping hands to launch this initiative.
People who can help with transport are also invaluable, and we could still use a couple of extra shelters/ foster homes to place our chickens in while they’re waiting to be re-homed…
Do you do any follow-up on the chickens after they have been adopted?
Yes, sometimes, and of course especially when we don’t trust a situation. But very often adopters keep in touch with us, and send us photos of their chickens. We have a special section for them on our website: Kippen die nu gelukkig zijn (Chickens that are happy now).
Do the rescued chickens still lay eggs?
Yes. Not in the beginning, but when they start doing better and their feathers have grown back, most chickens start to lay again.
Battery cages are forbidden now in Belgium and the Netherlands. Are chickens being treated better now? (Judging from the photos it doesn’t seem like it…)
It’s a gradual difference. Many people don’t know that a lot of chickens are still being kept in cages. In the Netherlands alone, there are 1,7 million laying hens living in cages. Until 2021, this is still allowed. These are not battery cages, but group cages and so called “enriched” cages. Because of the enrichment of the living environment, the situation has gotten a little better. But it’s such a small change. Life for these birds is still miserable. Free range and sometimes even biological chickens also have horrible lives: it’s all industry. But life for the caged hens is the worst, because the chickens can not escape the natural “pecking order”, and they can’t scratch around on the wire mesh bottoms of the cages.
How would you convince someone to adopt chickens instead of buying them?
Adopting saves lives. If you buy your chickens from a breeder of farmer, you are inadvertently playing a part in the death of male baby chicks. Most people don’t know this, but in the laying hen industry in the Netherlands alone 30 million male chicks a year get gassed or shredded. Hobby breeders also usually kill almost all the male chicks, because most people don’t want a rooster. It’s an unfortunate side effect of breeding. So if you buy chickens, you are actually approving of the killing of male chicks and are condoning animal cruelty.
Some cynics might be thinking: “Why all this effort for a couple of chickens?”
What is your response to this?
Why wouldn’t we do the same effort to save a chicken as we would for a dog, cat or human? A chicken is also a unique being and it’s scandalous how badly humans treat them. We (ab)use them as egg laying machines, but they’re intelligent, sentient animals. They suffer from the way the bio-industry keeps and treats them.
Besides, they’re also just really fun to keep! They become tame and can and be very affectionate. Sometimes, they’re just like dogs…
All the photos in this post were taken by Red een Legkip, not by myself.