Hello, this is Bill Crain. I’d like to tell you a new story about an animal at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary, which my wife, Ellen, and I founded to provide a home for rescued farm animals. The story is about a rooster named Big Red.
One day a young, off-duty policewoman spotted a small chicken hiding near a live meat market in Queens. Live meat markets are places where chickens, rabbits, and other animals await slaughter. Customers tell the clerks which kind of meat they want, and the animals are slaughtered and butchered for them in a back room. Customers receive their meat in neatly wrapped packages, knowing it is fresh. Once is a while an animal, like this chicken, somehow escapes.
The woman, who loved animals, didn’t think the chicken would survive on the city streets, so she caught him and took him home. But she also felt he would be unhappy in her small apartment, so she searched the Internet and found our farm sanctuary. We were happy to adopt the youngster.
The woman told us she named him Big Red because of his bright red coloring. We didn’t understand why she called this small chicken Big Red. But when we asked her, she just shrugged and said she liked the name.
At the time, she believed Big Red was a hen. When chickens are young, it’s difficult to determine their gender.
We don’t know how Big Red got to the live meat market, but here is probably what happened.
Big Red, like 99 percent of the chickens American eat, was probably hatched on a factory farm. At birth, the factory farms try to separate the males from the females. The farms might keep a few males for breeding, but they kill the rest. This is because the males bring no profit. Males cannot lay eggs, and their meat doesn’t taste good to most Americans. So the factory farm workers toss the male chicks into machines that crush them to death or fling them into bins that suffocate them.
But occasionally the workers make a mistake. This probably happened in Big Red’s case, a male who was allowed to live a while.
When factory farms deem hens ready for slaughter—which is invariably early in their lives—the farms usually ship them to slaughterhouses. But the farms also sell a minority of their chickens to live meat markets, like the one from which Big Red escaped.
After Big Red came to our farm, he grew and grew. In fact, he grew to 13 pounds, heavier than any rooster I have seen. He certainly lived up to his name. And soon he began to crow and tried to mate with the hens. He was definitely a rooster.
One afternoon, after Big Red had been with us three years, a crisis occurred. Chris and Ryan, two young part-time workers, came running over to Ellen and me. Chris was carrying Big Red. “Look, Big Red is blue,” he shouted. “He’s gasping for air.”
“He cannot stand up,” Ryan added. “I think he’s dying.”
Ellen, who is a pediatrician and has acquired some medical knowledge of farm animals, inspected his airway, and it looked clear. “All we can do is get him oxygen and hope for the best,” Ellen said.
So I drove him to an emergency veterinary clinic, where the staff put him in an oxygen room overnight. In the morning, the vet phoned to say he seemed better. He had regained some of his red coloring and was standing up and even walking about. On my way to pick him up, I was full of hope.
But when I arrived at the clinic, the vet told me Big Red had taken a turn for the worse. When I saw him, he was sitting and looked weak. His coloring didn’t look good, either. The vet asked me what I wanted to do—meaning did I want her to euthanize him. She relayed Ellen’s message that because I could observe Big Red’s condition, the decision was mine.
For some reason, I felt I shouldn’t euthanize him. I drove him back to the farm and put him in his aviary.
Then something amazing happened. Big Red stood up and began walking about. He looked redder, too. Within an hour, he was crowing. He recovered!
The vet didn’t know the cause of his sudden oxygen loss. Ellen speculates that part of his heart went into a spasm, blocking the circulation of blood and oxygen to the body. The extra oxygen in the clinic helped him recover, as did his ability to relax back home on the farm.
It is said that a cat has nine lives. Big Red has had three. First, he was probably mistaken for a female at birth and allowed to live a while on a factory farm. Second, he somehow escaped a live meat market. And third, he recovered from what appeared to be certain death from oxygen loss. Big Red makes miracles seem possible.
Bill Crain is co-founder of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag. His most recent book is “The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children: Insights from a Farm Sanctuary.” Visit the sanctuary’s website, www.safehavenfarmsanctuary.org