When I first started visiting farm animal sanctuaries, I was initially drawn to the pigs, cows and goats.

I noticed the chickens and other birds, but they seemed more foreign to me, which is saying a lot considering I grew up in Gary, well away from any kind of farm animal.

Chickens have feathers rather than hair, move around different than other animals, and have not been presented in the same affectionate light as other animals. Even the major farm animal rights groups and rescue sanctuaries often highlight cows, pigs and other furry creatures over the birds.

I have since learned more about chickens and other birds, and now have a big heart for them and a curiosity to interact more.

I recently came across a new effort by The Humane League called the 88% Campaign.

The name of the campaign derives from the fact that 88 percent of the 9 billion land animals raised and killed for food in this country each year are chickens. That's more than 7.8 billion lives.

By contrast, 1 percent of the animals raised and killed for food are pigs; 2 percent are cows, sheep, goats and ducks; 3 percent are turkeys; and 6 percent are laying hens and chicks, according to the campaign.

Keep in mind these staggering numbers are in addition to an estimated 6 billion fish slaughtered each year in this country.

The 88% Campaign is "asking companies to adopt progressive welfare standards that move to slower growing breeds of birds to address health issues, eliminate current live-shackle slaughter methods to end needless fear, pain and suffering and improve chickens’ environment by adding natural enrichments and giving them more room."

This approach is referred to welfarism in that it seeks to better the lives of animals raised and killed for food. Proponents argue that since everyone is not going to go vegan overnight, there is value in bettering the short lives of farm animals.

Abolitionists, by contrast, seek to end the use of animals for food all together and argue that the welfarist approach prolongs the suffering of animals by allowing consumers to feel better about their decision to eat and use animal products.

I generally side with the abolitionist approach because a bigger cell on death row is still a cell on death row.

But programs like the 88% Campaign or the efforts of groups like United Poultry Concerns have value in shedding light on the problem. And at 7.8 billion lives lost each year, it's a big problem.


Bob is a 22-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.