Animal Protection > AR Interviews

Interview with Bede Carmody from 'A Poultry Place' Sanctuary

Bede Carmody is a journalist who has been actively involved with the animal rights movement since he stopped eating animals on January 1, 1994. Since August 1999 he has lived with rescued and unwanted animals, firstly serving an "apprenticeship" by helping out two friends at their 10-acre sanctuary (Atchin Tan) before branching out and creating his own five-acre haven for animals.

Interviewed by Claudette Vaughan

Claudette: What prompted you to set up A Poultry Place?

Bede: I guess everyone in animal rights at some stage wishes they were in a position to do hands-on work with rescued animals. In my case the dream became reality. I had the opportunity of helping out some friends who have a 10-acre sanctuary – it was only supposed to be for a year and has now become a lifetime commitment.

I learnt a lot in that first year and despite the heartbreaks which do happen I felt I was really doing something worthwhile and rewarding. When the year was up I realised I couldn't really move back to Sydney and resume my previous life and be truly happy. So I took the plunge and bought some land and began establishing A Poultry Place.

Poultry are the most exploited animals in society – being abused for their eggs, their meat and their feathers – and of course with that exploitation comes untold suffering and cruelty. I thought by establishing a sanctuary I could do something positive and beneficial for some animals at least, and perhaps educate a person or two that animals deserve respect.

Claudette: What kinds of animals reside at A Poultry Place?

Bede: As the name suggests, the sanctuary is basically devoted to providing a haven to rescued and unwanted poultry – there's ex-battery hens, roosters, ducks and geese. There are two resident donkeys (Tinker and Taffy) and a pony (Billie), and of course there's Maisie, my faithful shadow. Maisie was rescued as a young dog from a backyard and has been with me for just over three years. She is extremely loyal and has a great nature around the other animals, despite being constantly bullied by her feathered sisters and brothers. She's not too bad with humans either, once she realises they are friends.

Claudette: Paint a picture for us of your average day at A Poultry Place.

Bede: I've been here for almost 12 months and I'm not sure I know what an average day is yet. Generally the day begins at about 6am with a coffee for me and good morning pats for Maisie, then it's outside to let the animals out of their night sheds. They are locked in at night for protection; they have the day to range around till it gets dark, when they go back into their sheds for the night.

The property is divided into four areas – the paddock for Tinker, Taffy and Billie, and three smaller areas, where there are chooks and ducks. This allows me to have the number of roosters and drakes I have and avoid the fighting which occurs when too many boys get together. There's basically three groups of chickens and two groups of ducks/geese. Each day I have to replenish waterers and feeders and at the moment because the drought has dried up my dam I have to fill up wading ponds for the ducks and geese. I'm lucky that I work part-time from home so I get time during the week to clean out sheds and do chores such as worming and delousing.

Claudette: Do you have any special animal husbandry experience?

Bede: No. I haven't done any training, just picked up stuff from my time at Atchin Tan and through reading. Ironically, when I was a little kid I wanted to be a vet. Perhaps creating and maintaining a sanctuary is the manifestation of that.

Claudette: How well does a battery hen adjust to life as a normal hen?

Bede: It is truly amazing to see how a rescued hen changes. It's the ultimate reward.

I find rescue work very stressful; the actual rescuing part is just the start. The first couple of days post-rescue are usually fairly harrowing and yet at the same time rewarding. You have to be watchful that they are all eating and drinking and that none are being ganged up on by the others. At first the hens tend to be aggressive towards one another because they are trying to establish a new pecking order; once that is established there are few altercations. You also need to be watchful for any conditions which may not have been immediately apparent upon their rescue. Of course the stress you suffer is nothing compared to what they've been through.

Rescued battery hens are very inquisitive and are constantly exploring their surrounds. They quickly start displaying their natural instincts to sun-bathe, dust-bathe and build nests – all of which they've never experienced before. It's a real buzz to see their initial reaction to straw because they have never seen it before and yet know exactly what to do with it – scratch around in it and nest in it. After a couple of days the pluckiest hens begin to perch and eventually most of the others follow them – again it's a natural instinct they are discovering for the first time.

The majority of hens have few problems adjusting to a proper life.

Claudette: In addition to the care of rescued animals you are involved in campaign work around Australia against intensive farming. Tell us about that.

Bede: I have served on committees overseeing AR campaigning but that has now fallen away a bit because the sanctuary work is the priority and I think I do a pretty fair job at it. I still do as much as I can to help out; professionally I am a journalist so I try to use my skills to help out wherever I can—write press releases, leaflets and edit newsletters. Most recently I've helped do some publicity work for the national campaign to ban the sow stall for pigs and also a little work on the KFC broiler campaign.

Claudette: Are there any techniques that you found particularly useful in convincing people when running campaigns?

Bede: The most important thing is to know the facts and only tell the public/media the stuff you know is true and that you have evidence to support. I also think it's important for people to know their own limitations. Some people don't like participating in actions or demonstrations but are more than willing to write letters, run stalls and ring talkback radio. It's important that people recognise their strengths and that campaigns are designed to incorporate many different strategies so as to include as many people as possible.

Claudette: Let's talk politics. You have worked as a political reporter and also lobbied politicians on various animal issues such as banning the battery cage and the NSW Game Bill. Why is legislation for animals so difficult to procure?

Bede: Most people don't view animals as being relevant – they don't speak, they don't vote so therefore they aren't represented. There are exceptions and some individual politicians are happy to be a voice for the voiceless in parliaments, but unfortunately they are still in the minority. I think things are changing, albeit very slowly. For example in recent years there's been lots of work done into the links between cruelty to animals and violence between humans and this is being recognised by lawmakers. The EU also seems to be making a lot of legislative changes for the animals' benefit and that kind of stuff is beginning to have a ripple-down effect, though as I said there's a long way to go.

One of the major problems is that Australian politics is dominated by two main parties – the Coalition (Liberal/National parties) and Labor. Most of the politicians who are sympathetic to animals are either from minor parties (the Democrats or Greens) or Independent. Those in the major parties who are sympathetic about animals usually seem to be rolled by the others in their party who don't share their concerns. To further complicate matters we have a three-tiered system in Australia which makes it very hard to get positive outcomes for animals. Look at the battery cage – to ban it all the states had to agree to do it, despite the majority of the population wanting it stopped.

What we need to do here in Australia, I think, is become more active in campaigning on the consumer front. Overseas organisations like PETA, VIVA! and Compassion In World Farming are having great success at implementing change through organising consumer boycotts and the like. It must be remembered that politicians are elected by voters who are also consumers, and if there is a mass movement against something a clever politician will jump on the bandwagon and embrace the cause.

Claudette: Who is responsible for defining the living conditions of animals and why?

Bede: I think everyone is responsible, but unfortunately when you talk about animals with people it becomes very clear that most have double standards, and that's if they consider them at all.

Many people who say they love animals will be outraged at cruelty to dogs and cats and hate people in other countries eating them, yet they have no qualms about the killing of chickens, pigs, cows and sheep for eating. And when you try to explain the conditions under which such animals are kept and killed most of them don't want to know because "it's too upsetting". Unfortunately our society has created classes of animals—there's a class of animals called companions (cats and dogs), and those classed as livestock which are food animals, and they're made to be eaten.

Native animals are another example of the double standard. There are many people who "love animals" and will put pen to paper and protest Canadians clubbing seals and Africans shooting elephants, but sit back and accept Australians shooting kangaroos.

Such double standards need to be tackled in defining animals' role in society.

Claudette: Why does the RSPCA enjoy a special status in this country?

Bede: Well, the RSPCA has been around for many years and is seen as the official animal welfare organisation, given its powers to enforce the laws relating to animals, so people treat it with reverence. I think also it is because other animal groups, such as Animal Liberation, are mostly viewed as being too radical. That is, they will ask people to stop eating animals, whereas the RSPCA doesn't and is therefore seen to be less confrontational and more mainstream and therefore more acceptable.

Claudette: Where to for Bede Carmody now?

Bede: Well, I'm nowhere near finished establishing A Poultry Place – the hens are still living in a temporary house waiting for me to finance and build their proper house and yard. (It's not ideal keeping them with ducks and geese because of the way waterfowl dirty drinking water.) I've made a commitment to the animals here to safeguard them and provide for them for the rest of their lives so that is the ongoing priority – to be able to feed and shelter them.

I'm sure there will be more animals, and indeed I have been asked to take in all sorts, but I have to be realistic and know my limits. No sanctuary can take all the animals who need homes. There's only me here and in addition to doing the various chores I have to earn an income to be able to support them – there's no government assistance or anything of that kind.

I think most journalists eventually think about writing a book, and of course I'm no exception. I eventually hope to be able to document my experiences and tell the stories of some of the wonderful individuals I've had the pleasure of caring for, in the hope of getting through to the general populace that animals deserve better. It's hard work juggling everything. It can be heartbreaking when you lose one of your charges. It can sometimes be lonely and stressful, but at the same time it is rewarding to see how animals respond to a little love and kindness and begin to do what comes naturally to them.

I have no regrets about making the decision to begin A Poultry Place. Some people have children – I've chosen instead to help out some fellow beings.

Donations to A Poultry Place are welcomed and can be sent to Bede Carmody at PO Box 205, Murrumbateman NSW 2582.