Eggs: A Hen's Life
Approximately 300 million egg laying hens in the U.S. are confined in battery cages, which are small wire cages stacked in tiers and lined up in rows in huge warehouses, some as long as two football fields. The USDA recommends giving each hen four inches of "feeder space", which means the agency would advise packing four hens in a cage just 16 inches wide. The birds cannot stretch their wings or legs, and they cannot engage in normal behavioral patterns or social needs. Constantly rubbing against the wire cages, they suffer from severe feather loss and their bodies are covered with bruises and abrasions. In addition to the severe mental and social deprivation, forcing a naturally active bird to spend her entire life in a cramped and nearly stationary position causes numerous health problems including lameness, bone brittleness, and muscle weakness.
Practically all laying hens have part of their beaks cut off in order to reduce injuries resulting from excessive pecking, an aberrant behavior which occurs when the confined hens are bored and frustrated. Beak searing, or debeaking, is a painful procedure which involves cutting through bone, cartilage, and soft tissue. Poultry researcher Dr. Ian Duncan notes, "There is now good morphological, neurophysiological, and behavioral evidence that beak trimming leads to both acute and chronic pain."
Sickness and disease are inherent problems in factory farms where birds are forced to live in filth and extreme confinement. In an attempt to minimize costs, even the sickest of hens are denied veterinary care. Hens are left to die a slow, and often agonizingly painful, death from sickness and injury. An undercover investigation done by Mercy For Animals uncovered birds suffering from raging eye and sinus infections, mechanical feather damage, pasturela, paralysis, vitamin deficiency, enlarged vents, wing hemetones, and blindness.
Laying more than 250 eggs per year each, laying hens' bodies are severely taxed. They suffer from "fatty liver syndrome" when their liver cells, which work overtime to produce the fat and protein for egg yolks, accumulate extra fat. They also suffer from what the industry calls "cage layer fatigue", and many die of egg bound when their bodies are too weak to pass another egg.
Osteoporosis is another common ailment afflicting egg laying hens as the birds lose more calcium to form egg shells than they can assimilate from their diets. One industry journal, Feedstuffs, explains, "...the laying hen at peak eggshell cannot absorb enough calcium from her diet...". While another (Lancaster Farming) states, "... a hen will use a quantity of calcium for yearly egg production that is greater than her entire skeleton by 30-fold or more". Inadequate calcium contributes to broken bones, paralysis, and death.
After one year in egg production, the birds, are classified as 'spent hens' and sent off to slaughter. They usually end up in soups, pot pies, or similar low-grade chicken meat products where their bodies can be shredded to hide the bruises from consumers. The hens' brittle, calcium-depleted bones often shatter during handling and/or at the slaughterhouse.
With a growing supply of broiler chickens keeping slaughterhouses busy, egg producers have had to find new ways to dispose of spent hens. One entrepreneur has developed the Jet-Pro system to turn spent hens into animal feed. It is described in Feedstuffs: "Company trucks would enter layer operations, pick up the birds, and grind them up, on site, in a portable grinder... it (the ground up hens) would go to Jet-Pro's new extruder-texturizer, the 'Pellet Pro'".
In some cases, especially if the cost of replacement hens is high, the hens may be force molted. This process involves starving the hens for up to 18 days, keeping them in the dark, and denying them water to shock their bodies into another egg laying cycle. The birds may lose more than 25% of their body weight during the molt, and it is common for between 5% and 10% to die. Poultry researcher Dr. Ian Duncan calls forced molting "a barbaric practice" which causes "great suffering".
For every egg laying hen confined in a battery cage, there is a male chick who was killed at the hatchery. Because egg laying chicken breeds have been selected exclusively for maximum egg production, they don't grow fast enough or large enough to be raised profitably for meat. Therefore, male chicks of egg laying breeds are of no economic value. They are literally discarded on the day they hatch - usually by the least expensive and most convenient means available. They may be thrown in trash cans where they are suffocated or crushed under the weight of others.
A common method used to dispose of unwanted male chicks is grinding them up alive. This method can result in unspeakable horrors as a research scientist described, "Even after twenty seconds, there were only partly damaged animals with whole skulls." In other words, fully conscious chicks were partially ground up. Eyewitness accounts at commercial hatcheries indicate similar horrors with chicks being slowly dismembered on augers carrying them towards a trash bin or manure spreader.
Some of this text is courtesy of Mercy For Animals.
For more information on egg production:
- BanBatteryCages.org - Investigations into local battery cage facilities.
- United Poultry Concerns
- Animal Visuals
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