Typically, I take a bus out to Tamerline Farm. The Short Line busses are actually pretty nice, and they take me from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City to a usually empty church parking lot in Port Jervis, NY in two hours and one minute. Someone from the farm is usually waiting there to take me the rest of the way to the farm in Montague, NJ. It’s about a 20 minute drive.

There’s a first part of the trip, too. The part where I take the F train from my basement apartment in Brooklyn to 42nd Street/Bryant Park and walk the two avenues West to Port Authority. It’s a pretty easy trip that happens in less than an hour.

This past Saturday, I made the trip as usual but with it being winter, there was an over abundance of animal skin and fur wrapped around my fellow subway passengers. This was getting under my skin more than usual, and it is so hard for me to block the emotional reaction this has in me — especially toward fur.

Now, my philosophy about animals is that they are never ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use as entertainment. They have their own purpose for existing and that is not for me or any other human to decide. It’s very black and white for me. It’s simple for me to look at it that way, because it makes my day to day decisions very easy to make. Did this come from an animal? Yes. Can I avoid using it? Yes. I mean, it’s really quite simple for me to answer these questions. Of course, mistakes are sometimes made and I move on from them lesson learned. Some time ago I was giving a great deal of though to what it meant to live a non-violent life and slowly realized that I could not both support the use of animals as commodities while professing non-violence. The two simply do not go together.

Why, then, does fur get me so much more rialed up than any other animal use? It’s really hard to say. Philosophically, fur is no more unnecessary to me than a hamburger made of cow flesh, a chicken’s egg omelette, or even a pair of leather shoes. Maybe it’s more upsetting to me because fur is so obviously unnecessary and so clearly worn as a status symbol. Whatever the reason, I find the use of fur especially callous and especially upsetting.

The point of all of this is this: when I was sitting on the train across from a woman who was wearing a coat with the fur of two slain coyotes on the collar WHILE carrying her dog strapped to her body like an infant, my brain exploded in anger and confusion. Here was a woman who obviously cared deeply for her companion animal, dressed in the fur of two coyotes who had been trapped and bludgeoned AND the feathers of who-knows-how-many geese whose feathers had been ripped out while they were still alive. How does this happen? How can people be so disconnected from the suffering they cause?

I wish I had the courage to start a conversation with a person like this, and the compassion to kindly have said conversation educating rather than shaming her. I don’t know if it’s possible for me right now. It’s so hard to remember my years of denial about my abuse of animals. I had been a vegetarian and animal rights activist in my 20’s, and at some point decided I didn’t want to bother with it anymore and went back to eating and otherwise exploiting animals for a good fifteen years. Truth be told, though, it was a group of animal activists (gently) shaming me about my animal use that caused me to snap out of it and stop intentionally harming animals again.

I’m writing this from the farm where I am surrounded by rescued animals, and like-minded folks who “seek to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” It’s nice to be in a place like this, but it is not without its own sadness. The animals that come here are not always well. There are laying hens with reproductive cancer caused by generations of industrial breeding, “meat” chickens who are genetically modified to be too large for their legs to carry them. There are a number of farm residents who have died since I was last here. Among them was Yuri, the King of Tamerlaine. He and his brother Jupiter were the first residents at the farm. Jupiter has been spending some time in the house, and I got to hang out with him a bit yesterday. When I was eating meat, I rarely wondered if the chicken in my sandwich experienced loss,  grief, or love. I wonder about it now, and I strongly suspect these animals experience far much more of an emotional life than I am even now able to understand.

One loss that sticks with me right now is that of Tilly. He died just last week and I got to know him from the very first moment he was first rescued. When I lifted him from a crate stuffed with 14 other filthy chickens that had been stacked up in the street for at days with no food or water, Tilly could not stand on his own feet. I held him up so he could drink some water and eat some food. His legs were terribly splayed from the rough handling at whatever factory farm he had come from. I didn’t see him again for another month or so, but when I approached his yard on that day, he came running to the gate to greet me. I don’t know if he recognized me from that first day, but I do know that he was vibrant and full of life and running across the yard. Running.

So, after being spared from a ritual sacrifice, Tilly was allowed to live for five more months in a safe place. He formed a close relationship with another chicken named Lefty (who, sadly, also passed away last week). I thought about this a lot yesterday after learning of Tilly’s death. “What’s the point?” was one of my first thoughts. If Tilly was just going to die anyway, why not just get it over with quickly? Then I thought of that yard, and Tilly running across it in the sun brimming with excitement to greet a human. Tilly got an extra five months to see that being alive wasn’t a miserable, horrific thing to be. Tilly got to see a life outside of a crate and experience love and kindness. He got to express his instincts and be protected. These are very basic needs that most animals do not get to experience.

So, that’s the point, isn’t it. A little soul got to learn that the world isn’t an awful place. I don’t know what happens to any of us after we die, but if there is something after this life, I am so glad that Tilly got to go there with the experience of those last five months.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts from the Farm: Fur and Rescuing Chickens

  1. Kevin Shoberg

    Your blog entry gives much to think about Michael. I appreciate your honesty in your self examination about why fur especially raises your emotional hackles.
    I think today, inspired by you and Tilly, I will get out and enjoy the sun and appreciate life a little more.

    1. Michael Harren

      Kevin, thanks so much for reading this and commenting (and so sorry it took me so long to reply!!). Seeing you on your vegan journey is another something that gives me hope for animals! I’m so glad we have known each other on these here internets for so many years. Truly.

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