Dozens of activists from the Meat The Victims animal rights group during a raid to liberate chickens on a Victorian broiler farm. (Photo: Meat The Victims)

Animal rescue mission under cover of darkness: ‘Am I a criminal? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely’

Hatch’s Emily Chapman takes us inside a pre-dawn raid by animal activists to liberate chickens from a Victorian broiler farm.

The humidity made breathing difficult. The stench of faeces and urine made it even harder. We were confronted by the sight of multiple dead chickens on the floor – decaying, trampled, wasted. More painful still were the thousands of faces we uncovered.

It began on a Saturday before dawn.

Seventy activists from the Meat The Victims animal rights group piled into the back of a truck en route to a broiler farm south-east of Melbourne. We were simultaneously excited at the prospect of showing compassion to the oppressed, and mentally preparing ourselves for the flood of tears, heartache and death we were sure to endure.

Our goal was just ahead: the broiler shed.

Contrary to what was alleged in media reports after the raid, the shed was unlocked. All we had to do was slide the door open and walk in. Once inside, 60 of the 70 activists sat against the walls. The remaining 10 made their way into the throng, ready to take 12 chickens to safety. Choosing who to save and who to leave broke me, knowing all the chooks we left behind would certainly die.

But there’s not much time to think in this situation. You have no idea when the owners on the property will realise you are there. We had to make choices, and we had to get them to safety.

I held an obese chicken close to my chest as I hurried back to the truck. This was likely the first time she had ever been outside. I wrapped my arms around her to keep her warm, stroking her head and whispering, “You’re OK” again and again.  She nuzzled into the crevice of my neck. I clutched her as I climbed over fences, jumped over (and slipped into) muddy ditches, and then finally she was free. I didn’t want to let her go; I had no way of knowing if she would be one of the rescues that would be coming home with me the following day.

A Meat The Victims activist holds two rescue chickens inside the shed. (Photo: Emily Chapman)

Back in the shed, the next phase began: collecting the bodies of the deceased.

The same dozen rescuers were now faced with the job of finding decomposing bodies in the mass of overstuffed live ones.  Approximately 30 dead chickens were taken to the front of the shed and delicately lined up, including one with its intestines hanging out and no face – just a bloody mess where it used to be. As I carried body after body, I tried not to cry. I failed.

A dead chicken found during the raid. (Photo: Meat The Victims)

During the search I came across one chicken I immediately connected with. She was so overweight she couldn’t stand, or walk. Her breathing was laboured, and it was clear she was running low on time. I sat on the shit-covered floor next to her, and ran my fingers along her back to calm her. After about 10 minutes gaining her trust I lifted her into my arms and cradled her there for the next hour and a half – until she died, foaming at the mouth, my voice in the background saying, “It’s OK to let go”. This is the girl I named Faith.

It was in that moment I knew I would dedicate my life to this cause.

The remains of chickens are laid out on the ground. (Photo: Emily Chapman)

By 7am the owners and police had arrived. We refused to leave until there was a media presence waiting for us. We left the shed chanting, “Humane slaughter is a lie, animals do not want to die” and “It’s not food, it’s violence”. There was cheering, hugs, tears, and a group of 70 people united by a love for animals. We stood for a moment of silence.

I’m happy to report that my two chickens from that night, Korben and Leeloo, are flourishing. They are slowly but surely losing weight. Their once-pale combs, feet and faces are now vibrant with colour. They chase me around the yard and snuggle up with my other rescue chickens at night.

Leeloo savours her new home. (Photo: Emily Chapman)
Korben explores his new home. (Photo: Emily Chapman)

Animal rights activists are not against farmers. We understand they are trying to make a living, feed a family.  We are against the entire animal agriculture industry. To the owners of the farm I went into, I’m sorry we ruined your morning. Please know that it wasn’t personal.

Still, I hope maybe your hearts were opened to our cause.

There’s been a lot of discussion around the activists involved being criminals, and that we should have been charged. It is true: what we did was illegal. We trespassed, and committed theft of livestock. But this goes beyond us, and the consequences we may face for doing what we know to be the right thing.

So, am I a criminal? Yes.

Was it worth it? Definitely.