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By Dorothy H. Hayes, author of Animal Instinct, A Novel.
See the book review of Animal Instinct

September 2007

It didn’t feel like a free country in bucolic Bozrah, on that sleepy Tuesday morning, August 28.

I was one of three activists standing on the side of a public street, north of Kofkoff Egg Farm’s private road. One of my companions was taking a video of a building that we could see through the bushes and believed housed some of Kofkoff’s 4.7 million hens.

The Wesleyan University expose’ of the egg farm brought us here. The photographs accompanying the story were of laying hens stacked in dark long buildings and stuffed like feathery sacks in wire cages, bloody combs, nubs that were once full beaks, balding bodies, and much, much more.

The scenes were typical of battery cage hens on industrial farms all over the country, and the photographs were said to be from a Connecticut farm without naming Kofkoff, but Kofkoff supplies 90 percent of Connecticut’s egg supply.

We had to come to Bozrah.

The house before us was typical of those buildings that held 70,000 to a 120, 000 hens. In only a few minutes, the farm’s manager drove up in a red pick-up truck as if he spotted us on a radar screen. No doubt, we looked suspicious taking pictures of what we believed to be a hen house. We were three women of a certain age, with one being a septuagenarian needing the aid of a cane and a helping hand.

But since the passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006, advocates wanting to demonstrate and protest on behalf of animals are threatened with specious claims. No doubt, in this climate, we were foolish not to camouflage our camera.

I told the manager that I had requested a tour from their public relation’s department when HB 7304, a bill to ban battery cage eggs was before the Environment Committee, where it died. Kofkoff representatives told legislators that their hens were content. So, I thought, they’d be proud to show me their hen houses.

Since I never heard back from them, I asked the manager for a tour. He shook his head in a silent, “No.”

The smell of manure wafted from the building and I covered my mouth and nose. The stench of toxic ammonia rises from the decomposing uric acid in the manure pits beneath the cages. It is the ammonia that injures the birds’ mucous membranes in the upper respiratory tract and compromises the immune system making it easy for disease to invade lungs, air sacs and livers of exposed birds, so says Karen Davis, in Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs.

Kofkoff had a confirmed outbreak of avian influenza in 2003. The industry continues to be plagued by the disease. Last year, twenty-five states reported outbreaks, according to the Center of Disease Control's March 2006 report. It also reported that “the specimens testing positive for influenza increased in the United States overall."

The manager drove off after fifteen minutes of answering and asking questions, and we filed into our two cars. At that point, two men in white shirts, pulled up and parked in front of us, jumped out of their car and started questioning us. We refused to answer more questions.

My companion with the video camera became anxious when she saw one of the men making note of our license plates. The men lingered watching us until we drove off.

Ten minutes later, a few miles down the road, at a mom & pop restaurant, we three desperadoes, sat sipping ice tea and talking about our encounters, when a state trooper walked into the establishment and directly to our table. He politely demanded our licenses and questioned our purpose for taking videos of the hen house.

We assured him that we were not casing the place for a possible open rescue of sick and injured birds, which had been done in the past.

After lunch, we noticed the officer and the same two Kofkoff men standing outside in the parking lot talking to each other. The officer again approached us as the two men drove off. Apparently, Kofkoff also feared that we were would-be terrorists planning to poison millions of eggs. We left and the state trooper was still in his car, and we were sure that Kofkoff’s soldiers were staking us out.

In no uncertain terms, we were forced to leave Bozrah.

Was this Basra, Iraq? No, it really was just rural Connecticut.

Also see: The Chicken 

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