To get a sense of the immensity and horror of a battery cage facility, we have put together a guided photo tour of the Michael Foods factory in Le Sueur, Minnesota. Please be sure to read our background information on battery cage practices. Please note that we adhere to strict nonviolence and biosecurity guidelines when performing our investigations.
These are photos (ground and aerial) of the facility, which is approximately 345000 sq. feet. For comparison, it is roughly the same size end-to-end as the Mall of America. It consists of 12 barns to contain hens, each divided into two sheds, as well as food silos, offices, and an egg packing facility. The current population of the facility is over 1.6 million hens despite four of the sheds being empty.
Outside the farm you can find large piles of dead hens and manure. The facility has an overpowering acrid odor that can be smelled quite a distance away.
Inside a Shed
Sheds are approximately 100 yards long (the length of a football field) and windowless. One end of a shed has a wall made of large panels that can be opened to allow air in, while the other end consists of large fans that pull air through. These are used to control ventilation, temperature, and humidity.
A typical shed has 8-10 rows of cages separated by aisles only 32 inches wide, barely wide enough to walk down. Lighting in the sheds is minimal, and the lights are off for extended periods during forced molts. Very few hens are ever exposed to daylight.
Lighting, temperature, food, water, and egg collection are all under automatic control. Sheds are maintained by one or two people who do spot checks on hens and equipment. We have documentation of sheds holding more than 90,000 hens and with weekly mortality rates as high as 2.4%. A dozen or more loose hens may be found wandering around in search of water.
Down an Aisle
Standing in the middle of an aisle, either end vanishes in the distance. Each aisle is flanked by six tiers, each tier containing up to 240 cages. Each tier is serviced by multiple conveyors. One brings in food from the silos, one carries eggs to the packing plant, and another dumps manure in a holding pit at the of each shed.
To see into the lower tiers, you must get down on your hands and knees. To see into the upper tiers, you need a ladder. While the condition of all the hens we've seen is abysmal, those in the upper- and lowermost tiers were the worst.
Inside a Cage
Each cage is 19 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and 14 inches high and contain an average of 7.7 hens. We have seen as many as 12 birds packed in a single cage. In human terms, this would be roughly equivalent to putting 12 adults in a room a mere four feet square by five feet tall. Hens must climb over each other for access to food and water and weaker hens are frequently trampled to death.
Each cage has a floor made of wire mesh to allow droppings to fall onto the waste conveyor and is painful to stand or sit on. This floor is slanted so that eggs roll out onto to the egg conveyor. An electrified wire prevents hens from trying to reach their eggs when they have rolled out of the cage.
Bars in the front of the cage allow hens to reach their food, but many get themselves wedged between them, unable to free themselves. The top of the cage is formed by the waste removal conveyor for the tier above and hens sometimes get their heads caught in the rollers or between the wall and the roof. Hens that get trapped like this are often long dead and decomposing before they are noticed.