have no enemies you say.
Alas my friend, the boast is poor.
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty that the brave endure,
Must have made foes. If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned a wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight. Man Without Enemies by Charles Mackay (1814—1889)
Somewhere in the Hampshire
is cold, very, very dark and eerily silent except for the sound of wild
animals scurrying about in the undergrowth. There are rats everywhere,
but nothing compared to the numbers inside the buildings. They aren’t
really the focus of anyone’s attention, though it’s hard to
ignore them as they run over some of the humans squatting on their territory.
This is less than a fun night out for any of this team, but for two or
three silent sufferers in the undergrowth waiting for word to move in,
this is a living nightmare. Not bad out of sixteen people! How many friends
can you persuade to hide up in a dark, spooky remote woodland late at
night with rats scuttling around, and with worse yet to come? Bet you
wouldn’t find many takers! And it isn’t just that you have
to trust wild rats—you have to trust your work mates, and be certain
that they don’t mind running the risk of spending some time in prison
as a reward, and not dropping you in it.
is southern England, Good Friday, circa 2004. Within this isolated woodland
are hidden volunteers from the Animal Liberation Front. Also hidden from
the outside world are three huge warehouses and a stench like no other.
Inside the stinking warehouses, there are so many female chickens in cages
stacked in rows you would be literally overcome by the stench before you
could count them. All are incarcerated in egg units laying Farm Fresh
Eggs to fill supermarket shelves with cheap chicken’s periods. No
one cares enough to do anything about what goes on here except for the
small group on site and others of a like mind who not only boycott the
product, but break these birds out to take them to a better life.
we allow this form of mass cruelty to take place is a gross indictment
of our claim to being a sophisticated society of animal lovers and this
farm is far from an isolated case. Such units can contain tens of thousand
juvenile red hens, descendants of the red jungle fowl of Southeast Asia.
Its modern incarcerated cousin is exploited to the absolute extreme. Back
in the 1970s these ‘chicken sheds’, as these monstrous places
are so called, could hide endless double-decker buses so vast was their
size and this mass exploitation has been expanding ever since.
of the earliest rescue raids on just such a chicken shed not a million
miles from here was carried out by six friends who met at an animal welfare
meeting in the south of England in 1975; seen as rather eccentric then,
in today’s society they would be described by animal farmers, the
mainstream media and politicians as ‘extremists’. Overnight,
they became ‘activists’, endlessly on the lookout for the
animal abuse about which they were so outraged. One Sunday afternoon,
they simply parked their cars on a grass verge, climbed over a gate, walked
across a field to the rear of a farm in Hampshire—‘the county
of cruelty’ as one called it—and unbolted the first shed door
they came to. The scene was exactly the same then as it is now, 30 years
later. Same county, different farm. Countless birds crammed in cages sounding
decidedly unhappy. Fearful of being shot or caught by an angry farmer,
and with only a few homes secured, the group were out of there with a
bird each in less than 15 minutes. It took that long because the wretched
cages wouldn’t open. It’s a lesson many budding rescuers have
had to learn on the job through experience: all the cage doors are different!
They all agreed afterwards that they could have rescued more had they
been calmer at the time but it was a start—the start of something
bigger: animal rights ‘extremism’! It was a simple but effective
thing to do, and it was to be done again and again, with activists taking
more and more time to rescue more and more birds. Battery hens: plentiful,
uncomplicated and exploited mercilessly have inspired generations of activists
to overstep the boundaries of legitimate protest.
Good Friday raiders have to wait until the last of the workers have gone
home for the night before moving in, but it’s essential to act quickly
the moment it’s safe. There’s a lot of work to do. Bizarrely,
it is still possible to simply open the doors to some of these units and
walk in. Such is the sprawl of filth and the death; it appears it simply
isn’t worth locking the doors. One would surely want to hide this
grotesque example of how to do something bad badly, but stuck out in the
middle of nowhere with only fields and a clump of trees around the stinking,
infested shit storage units, who’s going to look? No one in his
or her right mind would voluntarily go inside. As long as eggs keep coming
out, nothing else matters. Only a small number of activists are prepared
to wade through the waste pits below the cages. Occasionally the farmer
will drive a tractor in to scoop out the mountain of droppings, dead birds
and broken eggs and scatter them on his fields, but aside from that, this
is a hidden world.
soon as the last of the workers have driven down the track and out of
the woodland, balaclavas are adjusted and people emerge from their hiding
places. Until two hours earlier, most didn’t even know what they
would be doing; they just knew they would be needed. It’s never
a pleasant experience confronting cruelty, but as difficult as it is for
some to deal with, the pain of trying is easier than doing nothing. Opening
the rotten wooden door at the base of the first unit exposes a fresh nightmare
for those with a phobia for rats. Those who’d previously been to
recce the site had warned them about this, but for all that, their description
failed to impart the true picture.
almost no describing the full horror of the scenes inside these units.
The smell is the first thing that hits you and it does quite literally
hit you. Imagine the accumulated festering waste of thousands of chickens
piled high. There’s waste below the cages for as far as torchlight
can see, the peaks are like the Alps rising toward the sky. Above them
are the pale feet of baby birds, their toes on wire above the mess and
a thick mass of grey, ancient cobwebs around the cages and girders and
walls, forming like a second skin on the structure of the building, hanging
in the dank air. Underneath and on top of the compacted waste are thousands
of rats; the floor seems to move with them; they are the floor. They stop
and stare and scurry, looking for food, fallen crumbs, eggs, dead chickens.
They run into your legs and over your feet. They run over piles of feathers
scattered among the waste.
rat stands on top of a pile and looks down at the intruders. The pile
of feathers is a live bird fallen from a cage, but she’s been down
there some time and has no life left in her to complain. She might be
stuck or starving or injured—who cares? Her head stays firmly buried
in her chest. The rat thought her a good vantage point so she’s
good for something. The birds resign themselves to their fate. There’s
not a lot they can do about it; there’s nowhere to run, nowhere
to hide and no way out. You fall down there, you die down there. Unless
you are one of the lucky ones that gets to meet an ‘extremist.’
team first split into working groups to comb each of the pits for the
fallen birds who have slipped the net during loading, round up or escaped
from broken cages. Only the farmhands know how they get there and they
don’t give a damn. It’s hard to tell at first glance whether
a bundle of feathers in the dirt is alive or dead. Many get huge weights
of congealed waste stuck to their legs rendering them unable to move,
so they just sit there until they die. There are birds at every level
of life, death and decomposition in these pits. Some are just able to
blink in the torchlight—that close to death—either weighted
to the spot or caught in a deep pool of sodden waste formed under a dripping
water pipe. Slowly rotting to death. It’s no reward for the huge
obligation demanded from them at a few weeks of age.
enough to direct someone with faultless enthusiasm to elicit the rescue
of these birds, but it isn’t that easy according to Leah, a 17-year-old
trainee dental nurse on her first raid. Her older sister who does this
kind of thing routinely has asked her along. Leah writes later:
took us so long going through our unit, the third one, because of the
amount of water in there. We thought it must have been the same in them
all but I realised later we got the short straw! It was like wading through
quicksand. The four of us got stuck up to our knees more than once and
we had to keep rescuing each other and our boots! The worst of it was
spending ages struggling through to a bird in the distance only to find
it was dead. One I waded through to was ninety percent sunk with only
her blinking eye to attract me, but she died in my arms. She was tiny
and weighed nothing. I guess her dream came true and someone came to take
her to the sunny farmyard she’d heard was pictured on the side of
the egg boxes, but it was too much for her little body to cope with. It
was the saddest thing I think has ever happened to me.
made me feel so proud to be with all those other people, really different
people, all working really hard to save some chickens. I was brought up
to think about all life. My old school friends mostly eat meat and just
don’t care; they just wouldn’t understand why anyone would
bother stopping eating chicken, never mind doing this! But when you see
it for real, you can’t turn away. Gina (not her real name) had tried
to keep me away from this side of being an ‘animal lover’
to protect me, but I needed to experience something like this to make
me realise what I need to do with my life. Fixing people’s teeth
isn’t going to be it! You can smell the meat inside people, you
are dozens of living birds in each of the pits and many more dead ones.
There are little colonies of black beetles in and under the corpses, the
floor beneath them alive as they recoil en masse from the torchlight back
into the shit. The surviving birds are the first to be loaded into bread
crates and piled in the back of one of the vehicles backed up to the entrance
doors. It’s cramped and will be like that for a few hours, but its
five-star accommodation compared to what they have had to endure so far
in their short lives.
the time the Unit 3 team gets back to Unit 1, someone has cut a big hole
in the caging above the pits near the doors where the waste isn’t
so deep. Birds are being passed down and transferred into big bright coloured
plastic laundry bags, four or five in each one. The only colour in this
dreadful place. There is a human conveyor belt of bags and birds moving
gradually from cages to crates to who knows where. Do they know these
humans have good intentions, or is this it: that terrible, final journey
to the slaughterhouse?
is a lookout posted in the woods by the gate, but no one is expected to
return to the farm until early in the morning. Everyone has a lot to lose
should they be caught red-handed in the middle of a ‘conspiracy’—not
least the owners of the horseboxes on site loaned on a promise they will
be returned safely—but the work is being done at a careful, steady,
relaxed pace. Rushing things is a waste of valuable energy and besides,
these birds are fragile. According to reports and observations, many birds
suffer at least one broken bone during the round up for slaughter and
whilst they are unloaded at the other end. No one along that route cares,
that’s for sure.
among the cages, the miserable individual stories are far outnumbering
those down below. ‘How many can we take?’ is Leah’s
first hopeful query, after she has been helped up to the aisles to do
a shift. There’s no way you can take them all without far more hands
or far more time. There are just too many and they’re stacked up
high, huddled five to a cage. Perhaps less if cage mates have died, leaving
space to stretch a little, perhaps something soft to stand on for a while.
But which ones do you take? The first you come to seems to be the best
method, that way you don’t beat yourself up choosing who gets to
spend the next ten years pottering around pecking and chasing moths and
who gets shipped to the slaughterhouse physically worn out and traumatised
to be brutally killed. It’s a cruel world, but whose fault is that?
Surely not the fault of vegan ‘extremists’ breaking from the
ranks of the norm?
are so many aisles it would be easy to lose everyone else. There are so
many birds, probably 100,000, each one so programmed to resume the routine
of eating that they begin as the torch brings light to the darkness. That’s
what they do for eighteen hours of artificial daylight: eat. Indeed all
chickens behave this way—they see a light and they eat! And dust
bathe. And lay eggs. And therein lies the problem: they can lay daily
and are forced to do so with the flick of a switch. They all look broken
and resigned. What are their other options? They fight, hence the debeaking
process that slices off the tip of their beak and limits the amount of
damage they can do to each other. Some sound really disturbed. Periodically
there will be a pained scream in a distant aisle—that of a bird
finally broken, driven insane, dying? Who knows? You’d never find
her. It sounds like it’d be too late anyway.
are some birds lying on the floor outside the cages, not quite dead. Others
are dead. They’ve been pulled out as failures, no longer profitable.
As the weeks turn to months, the overcrowding is resolved as naturally
as can be in this environment and by the end of the cycle, by the end
of the year, there may be just one bird left. No one cares much as long
as they’ve lived long enough to leave a sufficient profit in their
wake—but pump them with as many antibiotics as you like, you can’t
make them stay alive, laying eggs forever. They are very fragile.
sad thing is, they do stay alive and continue laying those precious eggs
long after the year they’re incarcerated in a cage if you just leave
them alone. Instead of which, they’re forced to the extreme for
a few more eggs. Compared to the vast numbers exploited, ALF’s rescue
statistics are pitiful. Nevertheless, since 1975 many thousands of individuals
have been whisked out of this kind of living hell and onto the Animal
Liberation Underground Railroad where they have been able to live out
their lives in peace.
hours later, one horsebox full of birds trundles slowly out of the woods
as a second one pulls in, lights dimmed, and reverses to the doors. For
the hard working raiders this is a pleasure after all.
hard for anyone to say how they’re all doing because the birds were
spread far and wide, but over six hours that night this small group bagged
up, boxed up and sent on their way over a thousand chickens to good homes.
The ‘girls’ were driven first to prearranged safe houses from
where they were later distributed to people keen to live alongside them
in mutual harmony in back gardens, allotments, farms and smallholdings,
long after fertility.
this compassionate way of life is viewed as ‘criminal behaviour’
in the eyes of the law. If the police track down the birds they’ll
be put back in cages. They are someone’s property after all and
it matters little if they suffer, you’re not allowed to rescue them.
So what can you do? Let’s see.
after the Animal Liberation Front raid on the Wallops Wood Farm, the Royal
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) were informed
of the conditions and encouraged to investigate. The RSPCA is supposed
to help animals: ‘RSPCA Action For Animals’—it says
so on the promos. Staggeringly, the RSPCA Inspector didn’t even
bother to check out the farm’s conditions, and said he didn’t
even need to see the video footage because a poultry expert—a vet
he knew—had been shown the footage and assured him that there was
nothing illegal in the way the birds were slowly wasting away in the pits
or dying on the floor outside the cages. The Inspector was happy to agree
while the Expert shrugged his shoulders and said such cruelty is a trade-off
if we want cheap eggs. The RSPCA clearly does not prioritise animal welfare
enough, Trading Standards at the local council and its special Animal
Welfare Department are the people to contact, if you are keen on wasting
your time. They’d been to Wallops Wood before and animal welfare
charities and campaign groups all agree that Trading Standards inspection
teams turn up without warning and they were certainly pretty quick off
the mark here. However, the inspectors rapidly cooled down and the charities
and the volunteer groups all concur that in reality prosecutions rarely
happen. A year earlier, Trading Standards were called to the same place
and coincidentally turned up at the farm the day after the units had been
‘depopulated’ and the spent society of little ladies within
decamped to the slaughterhouse for conversion into chicken stock or something
like. Apparently they aren’t much good for anything else! The inspectors
weren’t directed to look under the units, only in the cages and
as the cages were empty the place was given a clean bill of health. Tipped
off a second time, they made another visit to the farm and were directed
specifically to the waste pits below the cages. They were equipped with
video footage taken by the raiders, depicting the suffering of fallen
stock, footage of rats in cages with laying hens, the filth, and hens
crammed in cages. They’d seen it all before and weren’t minded
to do anything about it.
told the farmer off and said they advised him to fish out the birds below
the units but only one month later there were dozens of live hens still
there. What the farmer had done as a priority was replace the old wooden
walls with huge solid steel ones bolted from the inside to keep out prying
eyes, effectively sealing in from rescuers the birds that fall and making
the situation worse. Anyone care? Trading Standards in Hampshire were
themselves more concerned that people had entered this site without protective
clothing and may have transferred disease, and wanted names! The question
of the appalling conditions in which the birds were forced to live did
not even enter their radar! Only the extremists have since been into those
stinking cellars and the aisles above to rescue other birds. By way of
contrast, a 42-year-old man who was found guilty in 2004 of causing unnecessary
suffering to 2,000 birds that were found dead, dying, diseased and living
in utter squalor at his farm was given a conditional discharge and ordered
to pay £75 costs. Two men arrested for rescuing some birds from
the cages had their homes raided, spent months on bail and were fined
Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement