An open letter to the Australian public

Edgars Mission - chicken, how now-4

I write this letter as much for you as I do for a much younger version of myself. It is a letter I would have found pivotal in informing my heart and mind as to the consequences of an almost everyday action of mine, which I never gave a second thought. The action I am referring to is eating eggs.

This letter is not to dissuade you from eating eggs nor to encourage you to eat eggs. It is to inform you, pure and simple—because the Australian public is not privy to the facts necessary to make an informed decision that aligns our ethics and our actions. You see, I truly believe the things we do, think and support, should be informed by our hearts and minds and not those of industries or others who stand to benefit.  For me, I view eating eggs as not only to the detriment of animals but to our own moral integrity and health as well. However, on the latter, as I am neither a doctor nor dietitian, I will not elaborate; I will leave that up to your judgement to pursue.

These words come from one who cares deeply about social justice, the principles of honesty and fairness and, yes, I confess I am an animal lover. I must add, on that point, that I wish in many instances I was not, for all too often my concern about the way our society exercises our cognitive dissonance* towards animals is dismissed on the basis that, “Oh you’re just an animal lover,” rather than examining the content of the debate.

The impetus for this letter, dear reader, is a little hen I came to know and love, yet one who is sadly no more. I named her “How Now” and this is her story.

How Now first came to my attention on the evening of the 8 March 2018 as I took a call from a wildlife rescuer who had come upon a frail little hen whilst undertaking a kangaroo rescue. In a cold and dark park in Kilmore, the hen was surrendered into my care, but to be honest I didn’t think she would be in my care for long because of the pitiful state she was in. Fowl pox, a nasty condition marked by sores, had claimed much of her face, wattles and comb, so much so she could not open her eyes. Severe emaciation caused me to think I was holding a featherweight mass of feathers and chicken bones, not a living animal. All this did not bode well for a long life, let alone making it through the night.

However, once back in our little vet clinic, this sweet bird perked up when offered food and attempted to stand on her one good leg. Only a little food at first, but that was enough to tell me she hadn’t thrown in the towel, so neither would we. Assisting her recuperating body was three times daily crop feeding, a process where a long, rounded-tip needle was inserted down her throat and liquefied food and supplements were delivered to her crop.

As the fowl pox was reined in, x-rays soon detected nails that had been ingested in her gizzard, with potentially life-threatening consequences should they pierce this vital organ. Hazardous as it was, surgery was undertaken to remove the nails and How Now survived.

More x-rays showed this little hen with her weakened bones had suffered blunt force trauma that had smashed her tibia. How Now’s bones were weakened, not by old age but from calcium depletion brought on by laying so many eggs—way beyond what nature intended her to, but what the egg production industry had selectively bred her for. Few people realise that laying hens’ lives rarely extend beyond their 24 (at most) productive months, yet their wild ancestor, the Red Jungle Fowl of India and South East Asia, can look forward to 10 to 12 or more active years of life. Producing over 300 eggs a year not only robs the hens of calcium from their bones (leaching it out to provide the material for egg shells) but tumours (a consequence of breeding) and respiratory problems (a consequence of environment) go hand in claw for laying hens.

But somehow little How Now rallied, her inability to walk morphed into a hop, then a limp, giving way to an almost perfect gait. Her bedraggled feathers were exchanged for a beautiful plume of soft redness, her comb turned a vibrant red, and she developed a great love of life, grapes and a handsome rooster named Red Baron.

Red Baron himself is a poignant reminder of the untold victims of the egg-laying industry. Born a male, his fate was sealed the day he hatched. In his case, industry callousness, gassing, freezing and being sold off as snake food were unable to kill him, but millions upon millions of his kind (around 16 million annually) are not so lucky. They are killed simply because they are the wrong gender. Can you imagine if every male puppy or kitten were killed simply because they were male? What do you think would happen? That’s right, it would never happen. Devoid of cute faces, soft tongues, waggy tails and goofy antics (although if you get to really know a chicken you will quickly realise they do have a full repertoire of these), chickens rarely find a place in people’s hearts. Alas for them, the place is a little further south­—in human stomachs. So few people get the chance to really know a chicken, but boy oh boy, those who do are smitten.

Back to my little friend How Now. The next stage of her life saw her vibrancy begin to wane. Her feathers became ruffled, her body hunched, grapes no longer thrilled her and Red no longer interested her as x-rays and surgery confirmed our worst nightmares. What we had before us was the reality of so many rescued egg-laying hens—multiple tumours had run amok in her stomach and intestines. Multiple tumours are something that the most advanced surgery and kindness cannot address, and it was at that point I fulfilled the promise made to this little hen I loved beyond words that night when we first met, “When I cannot stop your pain, I will stop your suffering”.

How Now is not the first hen I have loved and lost, nor will she be the last, and while each one takes a piece of my heart, they too make it whole. What How Now has spurred in me is this action because every time, every single time I bear witness to the death of a rescued ISA brown hen**, rage within me grows. I just want to shout from the roof tops, “What are we doing here people? What are we doing? Why don’t good people know what they are contributing to?” Coming to know chickens and indeed all the animals who are farmed for food and fibre as I do, I have come to realise the best champions of their cause are the animals themselves.  If ever you do have the opportunity to chat with a chicken, you won’t be disappointed – the conversation will indeed be quite lively!

I truly do believe in the goodness of the human heart, that we as a species care about the suffering of others. So how can it be this industry is so protected, sanitised and financially rewarded for what it does to animals? It is so inconsistent with our core beliefs. We claim to live in a just and fair society; we claim to be a nation of animal lovers. And whilst no two people would have the exact same view on how animals should be treated nor our relationship with the animal kingdom, we are united in our knowledge they can suffer.  We have enshrined this recognition of their ability to suffer in legislation by way of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Yet every day, good people condemn gentle, innocent hens like my little How Now to impoverished, short, miserable existences, so that even if they can find redemption, some malady associated with their breeding will diminish and ultimately claim their life. What so many do not realise is that Codes of Practice for farmed animals circumvents this legislation, and so too our ethical thought.  But does that make it right?

Currently in this country there is a huge push for truth in labelling. “Great!” I say, “I’m all for that.” But with this in mind, it is incumbent on all of us to know just what our dietary choices mean for animals. We have no right to shield ourselves from this knowledge, not only because it takes from the lives of animals, but also because it takes from ours. To deny empathy for other living beings, regardless of the form they have taken, has enormous consequences. In fact, it can be argued that the more defenceless an animal is, the more they should command our moral concern. I truly believe it is time for our ethics to command us to stop pushing animals from our thoughts and onto our plates and ask ourselves, “Just because we can do something to an animal, does it make it right?” For many years, the ability of animals to suffer, along with their rich emotional capacity, was denied. Thankfully, science is now confirming what common sense and compassion has always known—that animals are aware, and of this we should be too.

How Now has been laid to rest in our enchanted forest, and for evermore she will be in the hearts and minds of those who knew her. So now I ask just one small favour on behalf of my feathered little friend. Please ask yourself next time you sit down to eat, this very simple, yet life-defining question, “If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?”

Yours in kindness

Pam Ahern, Edgar’s Mission Founder and Director

*Cognitive dissonance: “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change”.

**ISA brown hen refers to a hybrid chicken selectively bred to lay an exponential number of eggs. Developed in France around 1978, the chickens are named for the facility where they originated from: the Institut de Sélection Animale.

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39 thoughts on “An open letter to the Australian public

  1. thank you Pam. Your words are thought provoking and have landed on my heart…..I purchase eggs from a local farmer who has only a few hens, does not send them to slaughter when they cease laying, but re-houses them to homes that want chickens to support their garden maintenance rather than for their eggs. But…..I can do better…..and I will….
    thank you

  2. Pam,
    As usual your words are thought provoking and poignant. At the age of 65 I am trying hard to alter my dietary choices.

    • Dale, there is no need to ‘try’ – just do it – I went vegan overnight, and anyone can do the same. Just have the mental resolve to not participate in this sad and unjust industry.
      Make the decision that your taste buds come second, and that you will not be an accessory to any industry that breeds, kills, serves, or uses animals or their secretions.
      There is a wonderful sense of freedom on the other side…

      • Not wishing to pressure Dale – but Romy, I totally agree with everything you say. In particular the part about satisfying the taste buds. I believe the conditions in which animals are raised and slaughtered is the second ‘Inconvenient Truth’…. ignorance is an easy get out. Dieticians also generally seem to warn people about Vegan diets when in reality there is so much variety.- and easy, healthy meals! Look at Bosch on Instagram!!
        Pam writes with such heart and knowledge (and experience) I wish all of Australia would read her compelling words.

      • Well said, once I saw the truth that was it for me and my whole family, we will NOT cause this suffering nor contribute to it. Bless you Pam and all the other EM angels

  3. Beautifully said Pam! I no longer just see the commercially prepared end product food item, I see the eyes and the souls of the innocent animals. For that reason, I haven’t eaten meat for over 3 years. Every day I am saddened and feel so helpless by the images of how mankind treats all animals. Keep up the great work, the tide is turning, slowly, but it is turning.

  4. Thank you fabulous piece of writing…I’m taking action no more eggs until I have chickens of my own roaming free in my garden. Love your work and warms my heart to know you remind animals that they are loved at a time when their faith in human kind is probably at an all time low.

  5. Pam, once again you have empowered me at the same time bought me to tears.
    You are my inspiration. How Now is out of pain and at rest.
    Thank you for all you do x

  6. Deepest condolences on the passing of your friend.
    The great joy, healing, comfort, care, happiness and love she knew, after so much suffering, was because it was you who gave it.
    Your monumental effort, the unwavering dedication that you show to everyone, your strength and vision, grace and wisdom, your renaissance in motion is a beacon of how we could all actually be for each other.
    And I have no doubt that she would want everyone to celebrate how truly wonderful you are, Pam. Not because How Now in true form said “I am someone”,
    but because you listened.

  7. Thank you Pam. My son and his girlfriend are vegan, I have learnt much from them and continue to research and educate myself on better dietary choices If I go out I always look at vegetarian or vegan options…. .lets say I’m a work in progress .

  8. You have a wonderful heart, Pam. I’m wondering if your lovely letter can be sent to the decision makers in this country who allow the heartless business of factory farming and caged egg production? How any government can allow a business to operate that has this devastating effect on hens is indefensible. Thanks for all you do. I do eat eggs, but we have a lovely wholefood shop that sells only pasture raised free to roam hens. My aim is for all industry to adhere to that level of care for hens.

  9. How Now thanks you for the white grapes, love and care. I’m glad she has been set free in the enchanted forest with no more pain to suffer. A story of a little hen who touched thousands of lives

    Thank you for trying so hard to give her a good life Pam.

  10. Thank you Pam, I haven’t eaten an egg or had them in my life or my home for a very long time. Your compassion and your poignant words need to be read and known. People have been lied to about what constitutes a healthy diet for long enough, shame on governments and industry for perpetrating the lies. However, as you said it is up to us to educate ourselves about what it is we are putting into our bodies and the consequences, not just on our own health but on the animals that suffer because of it. Things move slowly in this regard but at least things are moving in the right direction I think.

  11. While I agree with your comments re Isa Brown “factory egg producers” I see that as no reason to avoid eating eggs. I have 6 heritage breeds which have a great life, spoilt to death, and are free range for half of the day. They lay 180-220 beautiful eggs yearly and will live a long happy life. I also have 3 rescue Isa Browns who have a similiar happy life and because of that are living into their 4th year. The only eggs i eat are from my chooks andIi thank them every day. A blanket ban on egg eating is not necessary.

    • While I understand your sentiments, I believe they miss the point of Pam’s treatise. She is talking about the creation of hybrid animals, of the intentional production and genetic modification of hens to do things with their bodies they were never meant to do. The manufacturers of these animals don’t care about their lives and are satisfied with a hen that lives for just two years.

      They are not pampered or loved and given free range as your chickens are. There is a huge difference there and, I believe, it is important to remember and recognize that horrible dichotomy.

      • Probably didn’t make myself clear. I do not in anyway condone genetic egg factory hens and would never buy one. My 3 Isa Browns are rescue,repeat rescue birds. I”m saying don’t stop eating eggs because of them….. have your own backyard heritage chooks. I tell you, once you have one you’ll be hooked and buy more. You’ll love them as I do and they get a hug every day.
        In fact I want support for having a “National Hug a Chook” day.
        Watch the stress levels, blood pressure etc., go down.

        • National Hug a chook day! I love it. I would definitely support that. I can add that to my hug a lamb,hug a sheep,and,give the ram a tender pat day. I might seriously think about getting some more chooks,when I can build a fox proof shelter.

  12. Words can’t describe your dedication to these poor unfortunate animals who should not be bred for the plate, they are worth more than that. The whole farming industry is cruel & it takes a certain mentality to carry out their barbarity on defenceless creatures.
    I think in a couple of hundred years the human race will look back when they are enjoying their plant based food & will be shocked & astounded at what their ancestors were capable of doing to these sentient beautiful beings.

  13. Dear Pam—I have had SO many hens over the last 15 years, all of them rescues dumped by humans for reasons of inconvenience, declining egg production, lack of interest, or battery operations clearing the houses for the next round of victims. Most of them have died not of old age, but reproductive maladies related to laying eggs at a early age, large numbers of eggs, and LARGE eggs. Many I have supported with tube feeding, medications, visits to the vet, and reproductive cessation implants—a few persisted a number of months, but always with the same dying in the end or need to euthanize. When people call to ask for advice from me about maladies in their hens, for which they almost uniformly resist taking their bird to a vet for examination, I find a fantastical disinclination to honor the bird making their breakfast. The family dog or cat may be afforded elaborate surgeries and medical care, but the dear chickens of the family are viewed as “just a chicken” in spite of their egg output. It’s a appalling lack of concern, ethical thinking and the “cognitive dissonance” you write about. My little “Linda” was let go at the vet this last Saturday—she was a rescued battery Leghorn hen of great character.

    • Same here, and yes ours go to the vet, an implant only gave one of our gals an extra 12 weeks. Only 5 days ago we said goodbye to yet another because of the tumours, our “flock” is now two. They never seem to make it past 3 years, sour crop, egg peritonitis, tumours, all death sentences from the vile egg industry, heartbreaking :(

  14. Thankyou Pam cor your words, I could not stop reading as hope filled my heart, but then tears gently rolled down my cheek. I agree with all you have said, education and hope that people will choose to live kindly. Much love to you and All the animals that come through your path.

  15. For the second time I have shed tears for How Now. Your words are so powerful to my heart and I can’t even think of the horrors that animals have to suffer for the benefit of humans. It is really disgusting. Thank you for your knowledge and help in opening the eyes of the uninformed.

  16. Dear Pam, today´s news on German tv showed shocking sights of hundreds of starving cattle, just skin and bones, too weak to eat because of a long lasting draught. In the north of Germany we have had no rain for months as well, that´s why farmers are running out of food for their cattle. Our laws would not allow them to let their cattle go hungry and thirsty and suffer til they finally die. Wouldn´t it be humane to have them killed before they have to suffer so badly as there doesn´t seem to be a better solution. Can´t you apply to your government to do something about it? You seem to be well known in Australia, maybe some politician would listen to you. Thank you for your work, very inspiring!

    • It’d be wonderful if Pam could be a direct influencer to the Government. She writes and speaks so passionately and articulately and practices all she ‘preaches’! I think she is absolutely amazing. I don’t think you’d get an argument from any animal lovers here about the starving livestock suffering due to the drought. Farmers are predominantly the focus of people’s sympathy though.

  17. Dear Pam,
    So well said in many ways.
    How do we get the mainstream community to take a step back and do the research. The internet is a tool for knowledge.

    Why are the wider community not questioning????

  18. The pen is mightier than the sword, and a pen in your hands Pam is mightier than an entire army.
    Thank you for your powerful, insightful, honest and emotionally challenging writing.
    Blessed How Now, in eternal peaceful sleep, will continue to spur minds to change direction and conversations to keep flowing.
    I’m so sorry How Now, so very sorry.

  19. Pam, again you remind us of our duty to care for all beings in the way we would demand to be cared for. Thank goodness How Now had the opportunity to experience pure love from you and all at Edgars. If only every animal could have the same luck. Thank you for reminding all of us of our responsibilities and keeping up the momentum, and thank you so much for all that you do.

  20. Dear Pam,
    Thank you as always for being the person you are and for doing your work with such dedication and compassion. Thank you also, for educating people with such kindness and clarity of words. You make a huge difference in the lives of animals AND people, in so many ways.

  21. Thank you for this wonderfully written open letter. I wish I had the ability to express myself so well. I agree whole heartedly and wish the general public could be told exactly what happens to these poor hens. Sadly there is a veil of secrecy regarding what humans do to animals and many don’t want to hear the truth either. I hope the world is finally changing even though it is very slowly.

  22. Thank you for sharing this story and writing so honestly. When you have time, I would be so grateful if you could explain the truth about ‘backyard hens/ eggs’ as I have struggled to adequately explain the problems with it – I think your experience and wisdom on the topic would be very powerful and helpful.

  23. Pam, I’m so comforted that this little chicken got to know that she was valued and loved. A beautifully written but heartbreaking story, that affected me and now I can no longer ignore our treatment of chickens. Thank you so much Pam for doing the wonderful work you do,

  24. Hi Pam- so sad about how now. She has been called home. Once again ur words and storytelling has moved me. I have faith in the human heart and the future of animals. This year i took a risk abd opened a mostly vegan restaurant in my small hotel (im vegan) to see how people would respond. The people are blown away- and i can see that they are very inspired as well as proud of themselves for choosing and enjoying a vegan meal. There are so many hearts open to veganism- together us vegans must stay positive and inspire people to go vegan. Change is happening (and fast) xxxxx

  25. Thank you, Pam, for this beautiful tribute to How Now and all her sisters who have gone before her and to those who are still suffering.
    I live on an island where sweet puppies IF they are female are not given the love you described in your beautifully written story, and where kittens no matter what gender are tossed out with the garbage in in many cases in plastic bags in the garbage.
    I have been vegan for two years now and vegetarian for a lot more years. The more I read the more I realise the decision is the only one I could make but I battle with those who ridicule my decision because they won’t read How Now’s story because it is so upsetting.
    I live in hope, however, and I have posted your story to my Facebook page.
    Thank you

  26. To add to my comment above, whilst male chicks are not killed here it is for even more sinister reasons. They are “saved” to become fighting cocks. This sport is all about gambling, illegal but not policed.

    And other chicks are sacrificed in ceremonies.

    I am reminded of this quote, sadly, all too often.

    Those who believe without reason cannot be convinced by reason. -James Randi, magician and skeptic (b. 7 Aug 1928)

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