By John W. McCurry
Elmira Corning Regional Airport in Horseheads, N.Y., doesn’t handle a lot of cargo and certainly not a lot of live animals. So, it was somewhat of a spectacle when 1,150 live hens arrived Thursday morning after a cross-country flight on a cargo plane.
“It was definitely a first here,” says Ann Crook, the airport’s director of aviation. “We allowed special trucks in to haul the chickens off. They were not the typical freight forwarders.”
Animal Place, a northern California sanctuary for farmed animals, rescued the hens. They were part of 3,000 recently rescued by the organization. The transportation of the hens was funded by a $50,000 gift from an anonymous donor. The hens were saved after becoming unproductive on an egg farm. While on the farm, they had their beaks clipped and were kept in cramped cages around the clock. They arrived at Animal Place covered in parasites, having never set foot on anything other than the wire mesh of their cages. They were kept at the organization’s Grass Valley, Calif., location, receiving veterinary care and acclimatizing to their new freedom.
“The flight came together after we told one of our generous donors about the rescue of 2,000 hens,” says Marji Beach, education director for Animal Place. “The donor wanted to rescue more birds. There are a lot of animal sanctuaries on the East Coast and the donor said he would fund the transport of any additional hens we could save to the East Coast. So, we were able to save another 1,000 birds.”
Egg farms routinely kill hens by gassing them around the age of 2 when they become unproductive. The rescued hens will likely live for another 2 to 3 years, Beach says.
Air Partner arranged the charter flight on an Embraer 120 based at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The journey took about eight hours, including a one-hour stop for refueling.
Chris Armstrong, freight director for Air Partner North America, said the hen airlift was a first for the company.
“It was a good experience and we were glad to be part of it,” Armstrong says.
The flying hen party had some special requirements. These included good air flow, a pressurized cabin and temperature control to keep the chickens from overheating.
“We looked for a plane that could handle the trip coast to coast and handle the payload,” Armstrong says. “We found an Embraer 120 that fit the bill for the job.”
So how did the hens fare on their journey to freedom? Armstrong says all 1,150 arrived in the same condition as when they boarded the aircraft. Their new home will be The Farm Sanctuary near Watkins Glen, N.Y.