Nov 4, 2019

Meet Sparky

Greetings and thank you again for your support of The Rooster Project! For this report, I thought you might enjoy meeting one of the roosters rescued as a part of the project.

The young rooters I call Sparky lives in “the green yard” (so called because the coop is painted green, but it’s also very verdant) with several other roosters and three times as many hens. He spends his days socializing with a group of semi-feral hens who were rescued together from a breeder of birds for cockfighting. Together, they forage in the weedy brush and perch on the branches of a fallen tree. At night, they retreat together to the coop, where they roost to sleep on simulated tree branches attached to the wall. Sparky neither likes nor dislikes the other roosters who share his coop and yard—if they don’t bother him, he doesn’t bother them.

But Sparky wasn’t always so easy-going. He came to the sanctuary with his mother as a chick after they both were seized from a breeder of birds for cockfighting. Along with another hen and her chick also rescued from that facility, Sparky and his mother moved into a small coop and yard reserved for elder, juvenile, and disabled birds.

Most hens are fiercely protective of their chicks, but Sparky’s mother Ion was particularly ferocious in defending him from every perceived threat. When he reached adolescence, Sparky began starting fights with the other chick, who also turned out to be a rooster. Sparky then moved on to attacking adults, including an elderly rooster with only one eye.

Sparky had been a downy chick when he came to the sanctuary. He was raised by his mother in safe surroundings with plenty of food for all. He grew up in a flock within which several adult roosters lived peacefully together, so he had plenty of opportunities to learn the social skills by which roosters can solve conflicts without fighting. No injuries or ailments could explain his combative behavior. We tried moving him to another yard, but he easily flew over fences to rejoin his mother. Sparky seemed franticly fearful during his brief times away from his mother, but as soon as he was back with her he began attacking others.

If we didn’t know better, we might have mistaken this behavior for some sort of in-born aggressiveness. After all, stereotypes say that roosters are inherently bellicose. But we know better than that. It’s certainly true that the birds used in cockfighting are genetically indistinguishable from the wild junglefowl of South Asia. Less “domesticated” than other chickens, they seem to have retained the high-strung nervous systems of wild birds who must always be on the alert for potential predators.

Judging from his mother Ion’s behavior, Sparky probably did inherit such a nervous system. If so, that might mean that his attacks were more about fear than aggression. Sparky also observed his mother behaving aggressively, and this might have had a stronger effect on him than watching the other birds in the yard, including the other roosters, get along.

We hated to separate them, but we could not allow him to hurt others. We decided to use a modified version of our rooster rehabilitation protocol to acclimate Sparky to an adjoining yard, so that he and Ion would still be able to hear each other and know that each other were well. To acclimate Sparky to his new digs, we decided to try a modified version of the rooster rehabilitation protocol. We used the same spacious sleeping cage inside the coop and outdoor kennel centrally located in the yard that we would use if rehabilitating a former fighter. We could not, as we usually would do, let him go free several times each day because he immediately flew out of the yard and over to his former yard. Instead, we focused on helping him to feel comfortable within what would become his new community.

Since the hens in that yard are in and out of the coop all day, we sometimes set him up with food and water within the (quite spacious) indoor cage during the day instead of taking him out to his outdoor exercise area. This gave him time to really get to know several of the hens without having to interact with or even see the roosters, who tend to stay outside all day. Only after he seemed to have established solid friendships with those hens did we try letting him out each morning, ready to intervene if he started a fight.

For the first few mornings, Sparky did start fights, from which we rescued him, but he was no longer fixated on flying back to the other yard to rejoin his mother. We also noticed that his fight-starting seemed nervous rather than domineering, so we tried waiting until after the initial hubbub of opening died down before allowing him out.

That did the trick! He behaved well all day that first day out, retreating into the weeds to be alone when he felt overwhelmed, and then taking himself to bed by roosting next to familiar hens that night. He hasn’t caused any trouble since. Quite the contrary: Sparky is now a vital member of the community and recently helped to welcome survivors of a factory-like egg facility to the sanctuary. Just this morning, I saw him escorting some of them to one of his favorite foraging spots.

Thank you again for your support of The Rooster Project, through which we will continue to rescue roosters while sharing the knowledge that allowed us to find a solution for Sparky.



P.S. I do think that Sparky inherited hyper-vigilance from his mother Ion. He’s very hard to photograph because he disappears into the brush as soon as he senses that he is the focus of attention. He is literally invisible in many of the photos I tried to take of him today, which led me to a better understand of how multicolored feathers can be a kind of camouflage. I did manage to get two photos in which he is visible, and I hope you enjoy them.


Aug 9, 2019

Feed the Change Update

Fred and George
Fred and George

Greetings and THANK YOU for seeding change by helping to feed animals at VINE Sanctuary.

Over time, we hope to use this campaign on GlobalGiving to fund all of our annual feed costs at the sanctuary. We've still got a long way to go, but we wanted to let you know what's been happening at the sanctuary since we launched this campaign in May.

On-site at the sanctuary, we welcomed a large group of hens, along with one rooster, who had been seized by authorities from a breeder of birds for cockfighting. We also welcomed a group of roosters from a hatching project. As always, birds arrived singly and in pairs or trios from a variety of situations. (Mammals arrive less frequently, but somebody new may be arriving soon.)

Probably the most notable new residents are Fred and George Weasley, red-feathered twin turkeys who were rescued locally. Always side-by-side, they shadow sanctuary staff and visitors alike, constantly curious. It seems likely that they will soon step up to become tour guides, greeting and accompanying guests.

Shasta the undersized cow, who arrived earlier in the year, had a health scare when the vet detected a cardiac abnormality. One visit to a veterinary cardiologist later, we were relieved to learn that the abnormality is not as grave as it first seemed but may be partly responsible for her size (she looks like a calf even though she is a young adult). Shasta has also been adopted by elderly Autumn, whose adopted son Gemini just turned a year old.

Also on-site, our summertime children's program, Pasture Pals, has resumed and will continue to meet monthly into the autumn. This free program includes humane education lessons that teach values such as respecting differences. Each session also age-appropriate volunteer projects, so that participants learn that care for others is something you do, not just something you feel.

All sanctary visitors, whether attendees of our public days, participants in volunteer days for campus and community groups, or residents of nearby group homes who find it soothing to spend time in our leafy surrounds, do the same: help out in some way, so that they truly become part of our community rather than coming to look at or pet our nonhuman community members. Besides showing respect for the animals in residence, this gives people the opportunity to experience the healing effects of altruism.

Our other recent local educational events included a workshop on veganic gardening held in conjunction with the new seed library that we sponsor at our local public library and our annual "Eat the Rainbow" vegan potluck held during Pride Month. We tabled at numerous festivals here in Vermont and around New England, and I spoke at two VegFests in New Hampshire. Further afield, I delivered the Val Plumwood Memorial Lecture at the annual conference of the Australasian Animal Studies Association and our volunteer Julia delivered a talk at the annual Compassionfest event in Connecticut. At the recent Animal Rights National Conference in DC, Anna tabled and gave a presentation on humane education while I spoke about cockfighting, queering animal liberation, and confronting our own speciesism as well as moderated panels on sanctuary ethics and making connections between movements.

All of these off-site activities were rooted in the day-to-day life of our sanctuary community, which inspires people around the world. Speaking about our humane education programs at AR2019, Anna told the stories of young Gemini and his adopted mother Autumn, both discarded by dairies. In my talk about cockfighting at that conference (which you can read here), I noted that everything I know about roosters I learned from roosters — including the things that allowed us to imagine a method for rehabilitating roosters that is now used around the country and around the world. At Compassionfest, Julia shared some of the things we have learned from sheep. (You can read that here.) Speaking in New Zealand, I began by asking conference participants to imagine themselves being greeted skeptically by ducks at the sanctuary. (You can watch that talk here.) Later that day, I had the amazing experience of hearing an artist in Australia who has organized truly creative protests against duck hunting tell me that, even though she has never visited and probably never will, VINE lives in her imagination as a source of inspiration.

You made that possible. Everything we do is rooted in the daily care and feeding of sanctuary residents, and we cannot do that without the support of our wider community of donors. When you buy a bag of sunflower seeds or a bale of hay, you not only feed animals but also help to seed change.

Thank you again for that! If you've not yet signed up to make an automatic monthly donation, you can sign up right here. And if you'd like to feel part of it all, please do like and follow the sanctuary on Facebook and Twitter, where we post photos and other news almost every day.



Gemini, Autumn, and Shasta
Gemini, Autumn, and Shasta
Just a few of the new roos
Just a few of the new roos


Aug 5, 2019

What You Can Do to End Cockfighting

Just a few of the new roos
Just a few of the new roos
Greetings and thank you again for supporting The Rooster Project!
Fourteen adolescent roosters moved into the sanctuary last week, so we’ve got our hands full this week! But I wanted to let you know that, on the same day that those roosters moved into their new digs, I was giving a presentation on cockfighting at the Animal Rights National Conference in DC. This was the first time, so far as I know, that cockfighting in particular was included among the uses of animals for entertainment discussed at the conference.
Here’s a quick summary of what I said:
The farmed animal sanctuary now called VINE was originally founded by me, Miriam Jones, and a hen called Mosselle who turned out to be a rooster called Viktor. That first bird taught me so much about roosters in reality as opposed to the myths about them, and we learned even more from subsequent roosters who flew in from other places.
So, let me begin by sharing a few facts about roosters. Like all chickens, roosters are forest birds descended from the junglefowl of South Asia. Many of the breeds used in cockfighting are genetically indistinguishable from their wild kin.
Roosters do crow when the rising sun awakens them, but they also crow all day long. Crowing evolved as a way for forest birds to keep track of each other while spreading out to forage in dense foliage. It’s a way of saying, “all OK over here!” As a flock forages, the roosters remain on the perimeters, crowing to each other: “Everything is OK over here!” “All clear over here too!” “No problems over here either!"
This is a form of cooperation without which these birds would not have survived all of these centuries, and it also tells us a lot about roosters. The role of a rooster in a wild or feral flock is to work with other roosters to keep the whole flock safe. They are look-outs, and they are therefore high strung, so as to be able to respond immediately to any danger and remain on guard until the danger has passed.
Roosters have two different alarm cries, one for aerial predators and one for ground predators. Hens, chicks, and other roosters respond appropriately, either running for cover in the case of a potential aerial predator or freezing and looking around in the case of a potential ground predator. Other roosters help to raise the alarm, and hens often raise their voices too, leading to a cacophony that does not stop until the rooster who raised the original alarm crows to signal that the threat has passed.
If a predator does try to attack the flock, some roosters will rush to fight off this threat to the flock, even at the peril of losing their own lives. If attacked by a predator themselves, roosters will fight for their lives. Among themselves, roosters do sometimes tussle for status within a flock or skirmish over territory with roosters from another flock, but these highly stylized “battles” are more like dance contests than the bloody wars deliberately provoked by cockfighters. During these dance-offs, roosters puff up, posture, circle one another with one wing dropped, fly over each other’s heads, and peck at each other’s combs. Within a couple of minutes, one rooster will concede by either running away or standing in a slump-shouldered position, at which point the winner stands up straight and crows.
By raising young roosters in isolation, cockfighters prevent them from learning such social signals, by which they would normally be able to resolve disputes without significant bloodshed. Raised in social isolation, alone in cages or tethered to stakes, and often given less than they would like to eat in order to stay “in fighting shape," roosters “in training” for cockfighting live lives of constant aggravation and frustration. Cockfighters cut off their combs (which makes them look more like predators to each other) and either sharpen their spurs or cut them off and replace them with strap-on knives. Before fights, they may be injected with amphetamines or testosterone. At fights, surrounded by shouting men, these traumatized birds are thrust together into a pit from which escape is impossible, cutting off the primary avenue by which roosters naturally resolve their conflicts. Their nervous systems shout “fight or flight” and they cannot flee, so they fight. Thus do cockfighters trick birds who have evolved to cooperate with one another into turning on each other.
Hundreds and sometimes thousands of birds are seized by authorities from cockfighting rings each year. Most are euthanized, as very few sanctuaries have room for them, and our space is finite. Thousands more roosters die each year due to the stereotypes about roosters promoted by cockfighters. Those stereotypes lead people who keep chickens to reject roosters altogether or to believe that roosters cannot live together without fighting.
Cockfighting began thousands of years ago in the region where these birds evolved and then spread, via trade routes, into Europe and the Pacific. Europeans brought cockfighting to the Americas as part of the process of conquest. Conquistadors brought cockfighting to what is now Latin America, and colonists from Britain brought cockfighting to what is now the United States.
Today, cockfighting is illegal in all fifty states, and this is one of the few laws against cruelty to animals that is actually enforced—not due to sympathy for the birds, but because cockfights are sites of gambling and other illegal activities. Despite this enforcement, cockfighting persists. Men risk arrest to stage or witness cockfights.
Why? As is also the case with the subordination of women, men from very different cultures will insist that cockfighting is an essential element of their unique culture. Anthropologists who have studied cockfighting from within different cultures say that it always comes down to masculinity of the toxic variety. Roosters are avatars of masculinity—it’s not an accident that many different languages have a slang word that can be used either for a rooster or to rudely refer to the male member—and cockfights are meant to demonstrate that maleness means fighting to the death to dominate others, kill or be killed, not taking no for an answer, never showing weakness, never running away from a fight, etc.
Of course, this variety of masculinity hurts boys and men as well as girls and women. We can see this from another fact reported by anthropologists, and which I have noticed myself in my interactions with the cockfighters who are always calling the sanctuary to tell me that it’s impossible to do what we have done, which is to set up circumstances in which roosters live happily and peaceably with each other: Men who raise birds for cockfighting not only see them as extensions of themselves but often care very deeply for them, spend hours each day tending to them, grieve when they die, and insist that what they are doing is not unkind but is, rather, allowing the birds to express their inherently combative natures.
So, what do we do? What can YOU do?
Nationally, we need to push back against the stereotypes of roosters… and men. If we can’t dismantle the gender binary, let’s at least work for a more healthy masculinity. We can do this, and help roosters at the same time, by counteracting the myths about roosters with facts such as those I mentioned earlier. Roosters protect rather than dominate, and they cooperate with each other to do so. They are highly emotional, much more so than hens. If two roosters are fighting to the point of serious injury, that’s not a sign of their inherent aggressiveness, that’s a sign that the people who have set up the situation they’re in have failed to provide something vital, such as sufficient space.
But the real work against cockfighting will have to be local and specific to the places in which it occurs. In every community where cockfighting is common, there are people (probably most of them women) who hate it. We need to find, fund, and otherwise support those people, because they are who will know what would be most likely to be helpful in their community.
If you are an animal advocacy activist or organization in such a community, you can start by partnering with domestic violence agencies and other feminist organizations in your region, to help with the process of redefining masculinity locally and also to make it easier for the aunts and mothers and sisters and wives and girlfriends of men who participate in cockfighting to find you.
If you’re an animal shelter or sanctuary in a region where cockfighting is common, then there are two more things you can do. First, think about whether you might be able to offer refuge to even a couple of roosters rescued from cockfighting, in order to literally demonstrate that these birds can live peacefully together if given an appropriate habitat in which to coexist.
Next, and perhaps even more importantly, remember what I said about the cockfighters who take such tender care of the birds they then put in harm’s way? One thing that seems to happen is that boys who want to have close and caring relationships with animals may, if they grow up in a context of toxic masculinity, be drawn to cockfighting, because it will give them the opportunity to spend lots of time caring for animals while still being masculine. This is tragic. You can help by making a point of offering the boys in your area other things to do that will allow them to care for animals while still feeling sufficiently masculine.
Animal advocates and animal protection organizations in regions where cockfighting persists can contact The Rooster Project for ideas, information, and resources. We can help you decide what to do, and we may also be able to help with funding.
Please notice that last paragraph. I wouldn’t have been able to make that offer without the support of all of the contributors to The Rooster Project. So, THANK YOU AGAIN for your support, and I will be sure to let you know what happens next.
PS. If you’d like to share that talk with people in your own social networks, I’ve just published it as a standalone note on Facebook. Here’s the link.


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