A new chapter in U.S. history has been written with the airlift rescue of 1,150 egg-laying hens this past week—the first transnational all-chicken flight ever recorded.

The 1,150 hens were a part of a rescue mission that began back in July by the farm animal rescue group Animal Place Sanctuary of Vacaville, Calif. who had already rescued some 1,800 hens from the same California egg farms. Thanks to a generous anonymous donor who gave $50,000 to make the plane mission a reality, the group of 1,150 two-year-old hens took a 2,300 mile red-eye trip all the way to New York in their very own chartered plane.

Animal Place Sanctuary made arrangements for the rescue with two California egg farmers who were going out of business. Instead of gassing them, as is common practice for retired hens in the egg industry, the farmers agreed to surrender the animals to Animal Place.

When the sanctuary received the hens, they were in bad condition. Most had never been out of their cramped cages and were in poor physical shape, according to The Examiner. Others were barely able to stand on their own.

Unfortunately, these conditions are rather common for egg-laying hens at confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms. Hens typically spend their short lives crammed into a cage no larger than a letter-sized sheet of paper with five to ten other hens. At an early age, these hens also often have their beaks painfully cut down (a process called “debeaking”) so as to reduce injury when they peck each other out of stress and frustration.

Egg-laying hens have been placed under such unnatural conditions in order to meet the demand for their “products.” According to Farm Sanctuary, factory farm hens lay more than 250 eggs annually, 200 more than a hen would naturally produce under ordinary conditions.

Once a hen is considered “spent” at around two years of age (when their egg production declines), they are usually gassed with carbon dioxide and thrown away as they are considered unfit for the meat industry since their physical conditions are so poor.

Some of the hens from this historic rescue will live out their lives at Animal Place Sanctuary. Others were transferred to nine farm animal sanctuaries in upstate New York and other eastern states.

After two years of suffering, these hens will finally get to walk on grass, stretch their wings, lie in the sun and bathe in the dirt—the life nature had intended for them all along.

Watch the video below of their first moments of freedom:

Image source: Wikimedia Commons