VACAVILLE — Chickens do fly.
In the case of 1,150 hens that had called the Animal Place in Grass Valley and Vacaville home for the past month, they fly in style, aboard a chartered private jet.
The hens were among 3,000 that the Animal Place saved from gassing at a California egg farm. Almost half were packed up Wednesday and transported to the Hayward airport where they boarded a nine-hour flight to New York.
The remainder of the 2-year-old white Leghorns are available for adoption. Those who took the flight to New York are hoping for the same in their new location.
About one-third of the 200 hens bound for the Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ravenna, Ohio, are already spoken for, said Annette Fisher, the sanctuary’s executive director.
“We’re so happy some of them are lucky enough to go to their forever homes right way,” she said.
About a dozen volunteers were at the Vacaville location Wednesday to help catch the hens and cage them for their journey. There were a few holdouts, also known as the fastest ones.
In one barn, Susan Larsen, Josh Trenter and Chloe Rice tag-teamed some of the hens, with help from Toni Okamoto.
“It’s best to trap them in the corner,” Trenter said. “You’ve got to corner them or surprise them,” Larsen said.
Rice even sweet talked them, calling some “sweet pea.”
“You almost have to grab them with a hug,” she said of getting her hands on one hen. Later, she managed to snag two and keep both tucked in her arms.
She was among the volunteers who helped rescue the hens over two days in July.
“I’m normally cleaning up their poop,” she said, holding one in her arm. “I got to know them really well. I helped with their health checks.”
Saying goodbye wasn’t sad. Rather, Rice found it to be a time to celebrate.
“I’m excited for them,” she said. “I wish I could get on the plane with them.”
Perry Kesterson also helped rescue the hens and was there to pack them up for their next voyage.
“This is absolutely wonderful,” he said.
Choosing the fancy flyers was done in a fairly unscientific manner. The 300 that had been tested for salmonella and received health checks were chosen. The rest were selected with “no rhyme or reason,” said Marji Beach, education director for the Animal Place.
Prior to rescue, the hens had been debeaked. They lived, three at a time, in cages about 16 inches long and 12 inches tall.
“They couldn’t stretch their wings,” Beach said.
They traveled to New York, 10 to a crate that was about 34 inches long, 23 inches wide and 11 inches tall – enough room that some of them managed to poke out their head a time or two.
An anonymous donor, who supported the Animal Place in the past, picked up the travel tab.
“This is the first time adult birds have ever been flown across the country,” said Kim Sturla, the Animal Place’s executive director, in a press release.
“I can’t imagine anyone has tried to ship 1,000 birds coast to coast,” Beach said.
Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary volunteers will make a six-hour trek to Watkins Glen, N.Y. to pick up their hens. They’ll get on the road about midnight so the hens will be in their new homes before the midday heat.
“From our end there’s not a whole lot of preparation,” Fisher said. There was space to easily accommodate the newcomers.
“It’s really great they are going to live out their lives free, with room to spread their wings,” Larsen said.
Initially she estimated she had probably caught about 200 hens.
“Maybe 100,” she said later, revising her number. “I don’t think I was one of the best.”
The hens weren’t counting. They just cackled.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.