You may have heard on the news recently that on 14th May 2014, over 1,000 chickens were killed when the lorry transporting them crashed into a safety barrier on the M62 in Greater Manchester. The lorry was carrying 6,800 chickens when it crashed on the eastbound carriageway between junctions 11 and 12 at about 4am. Louise Fields and Emma Billington, who run Daycare4Dogs and Dogs 4 Rescue (and now also the founders of the Justice For Hens Facebook Page), were witnesses to the aftermath and give their story as follows (excerpt):
“We live right next to the M62 motorway and it happened only meters from our house. We woke at 4am with a huge bang and we could hear a noise that sounded like people screaming. We went running over and all the birds were screaming, it was deafening. Cages were up the embankment and scattered across the motorway, birds were loose and walking all over the carriageway. Many were already dead but there were dying birds all over the place with horrific injuries that will haunt us forever. Two by two we just started carrying the birds off the motorway and up the embankment to our field for safety. Turning around to realize the extent of the numbers we were facing caused an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.”
For almost five hours Louise and Emma called friends and neighbours to help usher the hens that could still walk onto the grass verge whilst also trying to collect those dying and in shock on the road. It proved almost impossible to free most of those still trapped on the truck. Legs and heads were sticking through holes, making it too difficult to slide the crates out like drawers without severing limbs. With thousands of hens still running free on and beside the six-lane motorway, police and RSPCA officials stood idly by and instructed Louise and Emma to stop trying to free the hens on the lorry and to be leave them dying in their crates with neither food nor water.
Some hens were so badly wounded after their ordeal that they were rescued from the slaughterhouse only to be put to sleep after their brief chance of freedom, despite surviving against the odds.
The hen in the photo above remained alive and alert following the crash until the decision was made for her to be euthanised. Louise and Emma spent from 4.30am until 8.30am rescuing as many birds as they could by hand. They received no help from the police or other authorities once the chickens had been ferried off the road so that traffic could resume, and in fact were ordered to leave the site. The worst of this is what happened to the trapped, injured and/or dying birds that the volunteers were unable to reach due to the damaged crates they were in:
“Then the realization that a local poultry farm had been called, and men in blue suits and white face masks suddenly appeared to take the live [hens] back off for slaughter was a devastating blow. We had worked for at least 2 hours by this point and that’s when the worst part came. After all [the hens] had been through, they were being dragged up by their feet and thrown brutally back into their tiny crates, screaming in pain and wedged in. We were heart broken and stunned by what we saw.”
Video footage was taken while the men roughly grabbed the birds by their broken legs and shoved them into new crates while the volunteers helplessly looked on.
“What shocked us to the core though was when the poultry men were pulling out the drawers to fill their crates for slaughter. They dragged crates out which had heads and legs trapped ignoring the screams – proceeding to repeatedly ram drawers back and forth in order to sever the chickens that were trapping it and catch those inside still alive. This went on longer than I can tell you, at least 30 times for each drawer they were trying to get out. What we were witnessing was torture. The anger and trauma I feel about this contempt for any life I am unable to put into words.
They were throwing those they thought wouldn’t have long to live onto the piles of dead chickens and we were picking as many as we could up again to carry them off back to at least die in the grass as though free.”
During all of this, the driver, who didn’t appear to speak a word of English, stood at the side of the road smoking a cigarette. The poultry workers didn’t appear to speak English either and had originally turned up to do their job of transferring the hens to another truck. After a while however, it appeared that there was some kind of mutual understanding and the men in blue suits began to help those trying to rescue the birds.
“Suddenly, surprisingly and due to a combination of our hounding of them with the camera and then seeing the sheer determination to battle against them and save as many as we could, the guys all of a sudden decided to stop filling their crates and start helping us save them instead.
It is ironically thanks to the workers from the poultry farm that the vast majority of these birds survived. They gathered them up much quicker as there were so many of them. They herded them up the embankment and helped us get them over into the field. We were so grateful yet there was little if any communication in words as they didn’t seem to understand us.”
At around 8.30am when most of the roaming hens had been ushered away from the motorway, friends and neighbours joined in to help the shocked and wounded. After hours of hard work, Local charity, Lucky Hens stepped in and took on hundreds and succeeded in spreading the word so effectively that the remainder could have been rehomed ‘five times over’. Even animal rescues as far a field as Little Hen Rescue from Norfolk took on 150 to be rehomed into free range retirement as pets.
Meanwhile, the unluckiest of the hens that were placed onto the new truck were left outside a factory for a further few hours in the hot weather past midday. Emma and Louise were never informed what became of these hens and the RSPCA has not admitted to getting any further involved. It can be assumed that the remaining dead and dying, piled on top of the living were eventually driven to their original destination of the slaughterhouse.
For those that were lucky enough to escape their fate to be turned into pet food and chicken pies, after 18 months of laying eggs in a wire cage they were given the chance of a new life, thanks to the actions of a handful of people who couldn’t bear to just stand and watch like so many others would have done. All in all, around 3,000 hens were saved with the very last helpers leaving at 11am.
In a remarkable show of resilience, up to almost two weeks after the accident hens are still being found alive by the roadside. One by one, each hen found is another one lucky enough to live out the rest of her days without suffering, for the very first time.
Louise, Emma, their friends, and other volunteers who helped to rescue the injured birds were appalled by the way in which the incident was grossly misrepresented by the mass media.
The truth in terms of chicken fatality numbers, how the survivors were removed from the road, and the treatment they received from the authorities were all either misrepresented or not reported at all, although BBC Radio 5 stated that the footage of the aftermath of the crash that Louise and Emma managed to obtain ‘raises important questions on battery farming’.
While radio stations ask listeners to ‘tweet their best chicken joke’ and newspapers cling on to the fact Peta has requested a road side memorial for the hens, the general media has largely failed to bring to light the cruelty that the M62 has undoubtedly exposed.
“We can only hope that this raises awareness of the ability to rehome ex battery hens and give them a life after their misery. Please spread the word and let’s show this industry up for the incredible suffering that it really is. If everyone had been there to see this I doubt they could have stomached a chicken supper.” – Justice For Hens
On the 2nd June, nineteen days following the crash, another hen was found wandering the motorway and has since been named Zena (as in the warrior princess’). All this time she has survived predators, cars, the heat of the sun and a lack of food and water. To this day police continue to tweet hen sightings on the M62 from motorists and Emma and Louise continue their search.