During my book launch on 17 April in Amsterdam, I read a piece from my own work. About empathy in animals and the friendships I saw while visiting an organic chicken farm.
‘Empathy is a trait that has long been attributed only to humans. Only humans were said to be smart enough to empathise with others. But while more and more research shows that other animals are also empathetic and care about how others feel, humans have started to use their empathy in an increasingly limited and one-sided way.
When I stand in the barn for a bit longer and the chickens are used to my presence, I see two chickens sitting side by side in a corner. I recognise one by the few small white feathers on her back. The other has a beak that is slightly lighter in colour than many of her peers. They sit together on the perch and seem to be chatting a bit. I see them looking at each other, crawling towards each other and moving away from each other again. They constantly stay near each other. If another hen comes to sit near, they shuffle away from her together. These are the girls you always see sitting on the corner bench in the schoolyard. Best friends, who have enough on each other. Later, when the birds are big enough, this group of 500 hens will be divided into two groups of 250. I ask the keeper of the chickens how this separation comes about. Whether they let the animals choose which group to join. Whether they take into account friendships formed in the first weeks of their lives. She looks at me in amazement. She had never thought about friendships between animals before. When the animals are separated, the door opens and the first 250 chickens are chased out. Then the door closes again. The chances of these two girls staying together are pretty good. After all, they are always near each other. But that their mutual preferences are deliberately taken into account is apparently really a bridge too far.
A few days after my visit, I get a call from the vet I visited this farm with. All the chickens I had met had been culled. There was a suspicion of bird flu and as a precaution, all the chickens on the farm were made dead. The chicks I had looked at never felt the wind blowing through their feathers, never felt grass between legs and did not grow older than three weeks.’
From: How many holidays does a pig have?