MOTHER EARTH NEWS took a minute at the FAIR in Seven Springs, Pa., to interview Oprah HenFree. Named in honor of the Chicken Liberation Movement, Oprah HenFree advocates poultry rights and the end of industrial agriculture practices that limit the happiness of chickens’ lives on factory farms everywhere.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS: So, Ms. HenFree, can you tell us how you got such as interesting name?
I was given the name Oprah HenFree because of my highly developed people skills, and because I’m campaigning to convince humans that chickens should run free at least part of their lives. I am a certified therapy chicken and go to rehab & retirement centers, schools and events — such as the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. People often ask to have their photos taken with me. I’m becoming a chicken celebrity. (Too bad I can’t give autographs. My feet are great for scratching up bugs, but I just can’t seem to hold a pen yet.)
I’m part of a larger movement that is working to educate the public about chickens. We’re working to overcome prejudices about chickens as being dirty, brainless, dumb clucks. People who aren’t around us don’t realize we have our dignity and personalities. We actually are every bit as fun to live with as dogs or cats.
MEN: What can people do to make life better for chickens?
The “HenFree” part of my name represents the Chicken Liberation Movement that is happening across the world. I’ve been involved in chick lib since I was a day-old chick. Chicken liberation is about allowing us to live more chicken-like lifestyles. This means being in sunlight, scratching the good earth, and grazing on pasture. (Did you know that industrial ag systems don’t even allow us enough room for stretching and flapping our wings? And the stench in those huge barns — it’s dreadful!)
Allowing chicken-like lifestyles in natural environments not only benefits us chicks, but also provides healthier products that we bequeath to humans, including eggs and meat. But we can do even more than that when humans give us a chance. Chickens have skill sets that include insecticiders, herbiciders, fertilizers, compost creators and topsoil builders.
By giving us a chance to help out in your gardens, we can play a major role in building more sustainable local, food systems. We can also be part of emergency preparedness strategies. If supply lines get disrupted for any reason, food becomes immediately scarce. Grocery stores have at most three days for food on their shelves, but if you have a family flock, then you will still be getting eggs, and even meat.
MEN: Your feathers are beautiful. What breed are you?
I’m a Buff Orpington. I’m a heritage breed from 1886 and really do well in family flocks and on pasture.
MEN: Have you had a chance to raise any chicks of your own?
Oh my yes, they are the joy of my life.
MEN: What have you enjoyed most about the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR?
It has been so “eggciting” in “eggstraordinary” ways. I most enjoy meeting people who have never seen a chicken up close, much less touched one! I would guess over 1,000 people petted me. The look on their faces was always soft and loving. They experienced how clean and beautiful chickens can be.
Also, it’s been quite wonderful to learn how many people are deciding to keep chickens again. I just hope we can figure out a way to improve the conditions for the girls who have to live in those awful egg factories.
Photo by Chuck Almarez