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   Erik Marcus | Buckeye egg farm disaster animal rescue

Buckeye: The Shelter Movement's Finest Hour

By Erik Marcus

VegSource's Sandy Laurie, above, has rescued over 200 chickens, including some 57 from Buckeye.

In addition to vegetarian books, my publisher also puts out a line of nautical fiction. Being exposed to these nautical books, I've developed an interest in naval history. I've found myself particularly interested in the transformation of submarines since WWII how their purpose has changed from sinking ships to nuking cities.

Given a modern sub's purpose, if news of one tops the front page, it's never for a happy reason. I therefore pay close attention on the rare occasions when a submarine story makes the news. So, last August, I closely followed the events when reports came that the Russian submarine Kursk had suffered a calamity and was disabled on the ocean floor. The sub carried over 100 sailors, and initial reports indicated that some sailors survived the accident and were trapped inside the sub. As the days passed, I checked the news each morning in hopes of reading a report of a miraculous rescue. But with each day, it became more and more probable that all of the sailors would perish.


I felt anguish in thinking about these trapped men. I understood that even as my prayers went to them, the surviving sailors were losing hope in the cold and dark. My heart went out to these men who undoubtedly knew that their chances of rescue were diminishing by the hour. Many of these sailors had parents, wives, and children; one of the wives had a baby on the way.

After a couple weeks, long after all hope of rescue had expired, divers were able to salvage some bodies of men who had survived the initial blast. Recovery crews discovered a note in the pocket of one sailor, penned after the accident occurred. Knowing he was running out of oxygen, the man found paper and pen and, in pitch dark, wrote a goodbye note to his wife. Reading of his final action nearly moved me to tears. I wish I loved somebody so much.

Barely a month after the Kursk disaster, another news story broke that affected me in much the same way. A tornado ripped through Ohio's Buckeye Egg Farm, destroying twelve sheds. Because this was a massive factory farm, a tremendous amount of birds were involved. While Kursk carried 112 men, the damaged Buckeye sheds held over one and a half million birds..

Unlike the Kursk's sailors, doom wasn't preordained for the Buckeye hens. With the vast financial resources of an operation like Buckeye, it would have been possible to launch a massive recovery effort capable of saving a large percentage of the trapped birds. Money and manpower were all that was needed.

Instead, the egg farm's owners all but disavowed themselves of any responsibility. If any birds were to be rescued, the effort and expense would have to be shouldered mainly by animal protection groups.

The closest animal sanctuary to the Buckeye Egg Farm is the Ooh-Mah-Nee farm in Western Pennsylvania. The day after the tornado struck, Ooh-Mah-Nee founder Cayce Mell drove to the Buckeye Egg Farm. Although dozens of birds were clucking and pecking around the perimeter of the buildings, virtually all of the hens were still trapped inside.

It happened that Ooh-Mah-Nee had an empty barn perfect for a couple hundred chickens. But Cayce could see at once that even a small team could liberate thousands of birds from the rubble. She resolved to do all she could, while she also contacted other animal sanctuaries around the country.

Her call brought Lorri Bauston, of Farm Sanctuary, to see what her organization could contribute. After traveling to Buckeye, Lorri committed Farm Sanctuary to taking in 1200 birds.

So within two days of the tornado, Ooh-Mah-Nee and Farm Sanctuary committed to taking in nearly 2000 birds. This commitment over-stretched their budgets and resources, and they called on other groups to help. The Humane Society of the United States came through with a substantial grant to cover some of the various rescue groups' costs. The organization also issued several important press releases regarding the disaster, which gave mainstream media reporters vital information on factory farming practices.

As animal rights groups coordinated rescue efforts, the leadership at the Buckeye egg farm was making plans to bulldoze the destroyed sheds, even though more than one million birds were still trapped inside. On the grounds that the Buckeye Egg Farm was a disaster area, the company prohibited activists from entering the shed areas. Only company workers were permitted to rescue chickens. The company brought just or six workers to each building site. In other words, at each shed, five or six workers were responsible for taking out over 100,000 birds.

Lorri Bauston recalls the company's half-hearted rescue efforts: "It was agonizingly slow. The problem was that there was no serious commitment on the owner's part to get the animals out of cages. And Buckeye would not allow animal activists to do the job either. Pretty much the only thing we activists could do was to provide vehicles and transportation for rescued birds. Attempts to rescue the birds ourselves was met by stiff resistance from Buckeye. Every time we tried to grab birds from the cages, security would come after us. By the fourth day, security ringed the facility and kept all activists away."

Many groups around the country made financial and housing commitments for the hens, but most of the actual work of liberating these animals fell mostly to volunteers with the animal rights group at the University of Pittsburgh, the Ohio animal rights group POET, and a brand-new animal sanctuary called Earthlings. Each day, a handful of students cut their classes and drove to the Buckeye Farm, where they spent the daylight hours participating in rescue and transportation efforts.

This small group of dedicated volunteers transported almost 4000 birds during their week-long rescue -- more than double the number of birds that Ooh-Mah-Nee and Farm Sanctuary could collectively house. In response, other animal sanctuaries around the country committed themselves to take in as many birds as possible. One giant offer came all the way from Sacramento California, where Kim Sterla at Animal Place committed to transporting and housing 350 hens. Colorado's Wilderness Ranch took another 450 birds.

Less than a week after the tornado struck, Buckeye management carried through on their promise to bulldoze the destroyed buildings and, by extension, all surviving trapped hens. The bulldozing capped a week that showed animal rights volunteers at their finest, and factory farm owners at their most heartless.

In dealing with the Buckeye disaster, America's top animal sanctuaries took enormous financial risks. They gave top priority to saving as many animals as possible, regardless of expense. Each of the primary rescue groups has put their financial survival on the line. The leap of faith these groups have taken, and the strength of character their leadership has shown, is truly heroic.

Collectively, these animal sanctuaries spent over $20,000 in the initial rescue, transport, and veterinary needs of the animals. But it's the daily cleaning and feed costs for years to come that is the real back-breaker. For every thousand birds at a quality shelter, costs for feed and care run about $750 per week.

Until now, people wanting to lend financial support to the Buckeye rescue organizations have faced an unnecessary difficulty. Five different groups have been responsible for adopting hundreds of chickens each. People who wanted to donate funds to all of these groups had to write five different checks. So, at my request, Farm Sanctuary has started The Buckeye Fund. All monies sent to the fund will be divided between the five groups who have adopted more than 100 birds, based on how many chickens each group is caring for. Since expenses for the Buckeye rescue and consequent animal care will total well over one hundred thousand dollars, the Buckeye Fund needs to raise tens of thousands of dollars to support the organizations that led this rescue effort.

The Buckeye rescue operation was, far and away, the largest animal rescue in the history of the movement. The operation will incur massive feed and veterinary expenses for several years to come. Just as the leadership of several farm animal shelters acted bravely and generously in a moment of extreme need, it's up to all of us who support animal sanctuaries to do our part to make sure these heavy but vital costs are covered.


To contribute to The Buckeye Fund, please make checks payable to Farm Sanctuary, with the words "For Buckeye Fund" written on the memo line of the check. All donations are tax deductible. Send checks to:

Farm Sanctuary
Attn: Buckeye Fund
PO Box 150
Watkins Glen, NY 14891


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