In a truly bizarre story, laying hens who have survived euthanasia have walked out alive from compost piles. Neighbors in Sonoma County dubbed them “zombie chickens.”

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat slugged the story “Recycling Chickens,” though the news was really about the birds that desperately tried to avoid such a fate.

When Jim Stauffer of Petaluma saw a chicken crawling out of a mound of compost like the living dead, he knew something had changed at the egg farm next door.

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“We called them zombie chickens,” Stauffer said. “Some of them crawled right up out of the ground. They’d get out and stagger around.”

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The image of a chicken walking out of a compost pile filled with other dead birds is, I imagine, a sight to behold. Apparently, the practice of composting chickens began when the market for spent egg-laying birds collapsed. They have only a pound of edible meat, compared to as much of 5 pounds for a bird raised for the dinner table, and the cost of slaughtering and transporting them is higher than the revenue they’d produce.

So egg producers have taken to euthanizing the laying hens with carbon dioxide in a sealed box, then composting them with sawdust.

Now, environmentally, there’s something to be said for this process, since the compost theoretically is used to enrich soil fertility. But, needless to say, it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Once used up for egg laying, the only thing a bird is good for is compost?

The flurry of news stories around the incident led to a follow up article: What to do with the hens?

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The Redwood Empire Food Bank considered making sausage to feed the poor. A Nevada man said they can be feed for large exotic pets, such as pythons and alligators. An industry group is looking into using them to fuel a power plant.

But most of those ideas are unlikely or years away from being viable, egg ranchers said.

Until someone hatches another scheme, the birds are likely to be composted, unless they end up like one dubbed the “survivor.” The “all-white chicken ‘looked like it had been pulled through a knothole’ because it had worn its feathers off moving around in the cage where it was kept while it produced eggs,” the report said.