A truckful of leghorn hens recently arrived at the Sonoma Humane Society's Forget Me Not Farm, the latest effort by the nonprofit organization to help find homes for chickens rescued from large egg farms around the state.
"The goal is to move these birds (into homes) as quickly as possible," said Carol Rathmann, director of Forget Me Not Farm.
As she spoke last week, about 40 of the newly-arrived white hens pecked the straw and scratched the sun-warmed dirt in their roomy enclosure at the 3-acre farm, located behind the Sonoma Humane Society headquarters off Highway 12.
The chickens were the first of what could be many avian deliveries in the coming weeks, following a Chico-area egg producer's announcement that he plans to close by early April.
Volunteers are bringing the birds from Animal Place, a Grass Valley-based nonprofit organization that rescues farm animals.
Animal Place often takes thousands of birds from large egg farms that would otherwise kill them when their egg-laying productivity drops. Almost a decade ago, Forget Me Not Farm, which operates as a branch of the Sonoma Humane Society, became a "flock partner," taking hens when Animal Place performed an especially large rescue.
Forget Me Not has received around 800 or 900 birds from the rescue over the years, Rathmann said.
Several months ago, Animal Place took more than 3,000 leghorn hens from a massive egg farm based in southern California.
Finding homes for that many birds is a "slow go," said Kim Sturla, executive director of Animal Place.
She was still trying to adopt out about 300 birds when the Chico egg farmer reached out recently to say that he was going out of business and needed to find homes for his 1,800 brown hens by early April. After that, the birds would have to be slaughtered, Sturla said.
"We're hoping we can rescue all 1,800, but it depends on how well we can get the word out," she said.
Sturla reached out to Forget Me Not for help adopting the birds.
Once the leghorns that Rathmann receives are adopted, she'll begin taking in brown hens from Chico in batches of 100 from the Grass Valley rescue.
The first 40 leghorns had all found homes by Sunday, Rathmann said. Another 40 are scheduled to arrive Tuesday.
The leghorns, Rathmann said, appear a little straggly. They were raised in battery cages where they were unable to walk and de-beaked so they could not hurt each other, she said. Despite these difficulties, the birds are healthy, have grown accustomed to being outside, and can still produce for many years, she said.
"These guys acclimated immediately," she said.
The birds seemed unruffled Wednesday as a group of visiting preschoolers fed them and collected their white eggs.
"It's the perfect time of year to add hens or start a flock," Rathmann added.
The brown hens from Chico are younger, about a year old, and were raised in a free-range environment where they ate organic food.