“Chickens exist in stable social groups. They can recognize each
other by their facial features. They have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth of information to one other, including separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is traveling by land or sea. They are good at solving problems. Perhaps most persuasive is the chicken’s intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, nevertheless continues to exist. This is beyond the capacity of small children.”
–Dr. Chris Evans,
Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Australia
Do you remember when we had farmers with large amounts of land for animals to roam? The chickens would roam free, lay eggs year round, and in the spring, baby chicks would follow their mama hens around everywhere. Before World War II in America, about 70% of the population worked in agriculture and there were several family farms around. After that there was a shift; major corporations took over small family farms and the treatment of farm animals slowly diminished. This began what is now known as factory farming. In the United States during 2002, 87 billion eggs were produced by around 336 million laying hens.(1) These layer hens don’t get to make a nest, sit on their eggs or even get a chance to see their babies- these chicks will never meet their moms.
Let’s start from the beginning. You hatch from an egg and notice that there are many other baby chicks hatching around you. A big hand comes and roughly picks you up and throws you in a bin with many other fuzz balls that look just like you. The contents of this bin are then tossed onto a conveyer belt. This conveyer belt has two possible destinations. If you are a male, you will not be living for much longer (even though you just hatched from your shell). Since males cannot lay eggs and are unable to grow fast enough to be profitable for meat, they are useless to the industry. So if you are a male chick, you will either be ground up, gassed in chambers, or thrown out in a huge dumpster; left to either starve or freeze to death. The photo below (taken by Farm Sanctuary) shows male chicks in a dumpster, left to die a slow and painful death.
If you are a female chick, then you will continue along the conveyer belt. Their beaks are trimmed off with a hot blade, all without anesthesia or pain killers. This has been shown to cause these hens chronic and acute pain for the rest of their short lives. Chickens use their beaks for touching and picking things up; their beaks are like our hands. The egg industry claims that beak trimming is needed both to decrease aggressive tendencies among birds and to reduce feed costs.(4) Many countries have banned beak trimming and have had no problems without it. Chickens with their beaks trimmed often starve to death because they are in chronic pain.
The females, in my opinion, have it much worse than the male chicks do. Ninety-eight percent of the female layer hens are confined in battery cages.(2) Battery cages are small wire cages that normally hold 3-10 hens. Each hen has less space than a sheet of letter-sized paper (67 square inches per bird). A study by Drs. M.S. Dawkins and S. Hardie (1989) found that hens need an average of 72 square inches just to stand erect, 178 inches to preen, 197 inches to turn around, and 291 inches to flap their wings.(3) So 67 x 67 inches isn’t nearly enough room for these poor animals.
Female hens spend up to two years in these small cages. Their bodies often rub up against the side of the cage, causing them to lose their feathers. In many of the pictures taken of battery cages, you can see that many of these chickens are all bones. Chickens in these cages lack any sort of exercise and often have brittle bones and no muscle. It’s not uncommon to see their claws grow around the wire, because they are not meant to stand on wire for years at a time. Sometimes, hens die younger than others because their health deteriorates. These dead hens are often left to rot inside cages with hens who are still alive. When the alive hens slow down laying eggs (typically around 1-2 years old), the industry brings in newly laid chicks to take over and gets rid of these older hens. Workers violently rip these “useless” hens out of their cages (often breaking their brittle bones) and cram them all in a big truck to take to slaughter. Sometimes, workers will just place these chickens in a dumpster to starve or get crushed to death. All I know is that in a factory farm, none of these animals will have a humane end.
Now, you know the average life of a battery caged chicken. From the day they hatch to the day they are slaughtered, they live miserable lives. These factories don’t care about the welfare of these poor animals. As long as the can get as many birds and as many eggs as the possibly can, the companies are happy.
The Truth About “Cage-Free”:
Cage-free doesn’t mean the hens are allowed to roam around on Old McDonald’s farm! Most people seem to believe this. I work at a grocery store as a cashier. I would say about 1 in every 30 customers buy eggs labeled as “Cage-Free”. There have been many a time where I almost ask these customers why they go with “Cage-free”, just to see if they believe that these eggs came from happy chickens. I’m sure that’s what most people think. “Cage-free” SOUNDS pleasant- it’s meant to sound that way. But in all reality, “Cage-free” hens are treated just about the same as any battery-cage hen.
- Both “Cage-free” and battery-cage systems typically buy their hens from hatcheries that kill the male chicks upon hatching—more than 200 million each year in the United States alone.
- Both cage and cage-free hens have part of their beaks burned off, a painful mutilation that is done all without painkillers.
- Both cage and cage-free hens are typically slaughtered at less than two years old, far less than half their normal lifespan. They are often transported long distances to slaughter plants with no food or water.
Whether you buy eggs from “Cage-free” hens or ones living in battery cages, you have a risk of getting salmonella. Do you remember the salmonella outbreak that occurred last August? You can thank the egg industry for that one. Although many don’t know how these hens can cause salmonella, there is a theory that it’s caused by their stress. It could also be caused from all of the ammonia and dust in the air, which the hens are constantly breathing in. Either way, it is almost certain that if one hen carries a disease, the chance that the other hens will catch that disease is very good. A way we could possibly prevent the spread of disease is to make the cages larger or just let them be chickens and live outside. But that would mean these egg companies would have to pay more of their money and they don’t want to spend that money.
These hens typically never see daylight. The amount of eggs they are forced to lay is a staggering amount and it puts a lot of stress on their already fragile bodies. Many go insane because of boredom and not being act like a normal chicken would. Please, stop purchasing your eggs from stores. If we got everyone to stop purchasing these eggs, we could make a difference in the world.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
DON’T EAT EGGS. I don’t suggest this unless you live in the city. If you live in a rural area, chances are there will be several people who own chickens and would be happy to sell them to you. This is what I do. My neighbor owns a small chicken coop and sells my family eggs for $3.50. Sure, it’s more expensive than eggs from the grocery store but I know that the hens (and roosters!) are well cared for and happy.
DON’T BUY EGGS FROM THE GROCERY STORE. Unless you’ve seen where your eggs originated from, you won’t know whether or not cruelty was involved in the making of your eggs. So to be safe, refuse to buy your eggs from a store. This makes a HUGE statement and will cause a huge change in the egg industry if a lot of people participate.
SEND THIS TO YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Chances are they also had no clue the cruelty these chickens had to endure to get the eggs in your fridge. PLEASE recommend my blog to others. My goal is to stop all sorts of animal cruelty. I’m not getting paid to write this blog. I write it because I want to make a difference in this world.
[WARNING!] The videos below will show you just how terrible factory farming is for the animals.They’re a bit more graphic but that’s the point; I want to show you how horrible these animals are treated. BOTH VIDEOS CONTAIN GRAPHIC IMAGES! VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED!
- USDA – National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Poultry Highlights” May 29, 2002, http://www.nass.usda.gov/ca/rev/poultry/205polna.htm.
- United Egg Producers – “United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks,” 2002 Edition (United Egg Producers, Alpharetta, Ga.).
- Mench J and Swanson J, “Developing Science-Based Animal Welfare Guidelines,” a speech delivered at the 2000 Poultry Symposium and Egg Processing Workshop, http://animalscience.ucdavis.edu/Avian/pubs.htm.
- “Feed savings could justify beak trimming,” Poultry Digest, March 1993: p. 6. As cited in Davis K, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry (Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Co., 1996), p. 70.