Battery farms are the mass warehouses where hens are kept in small cages laying eggs. Just how bad the conditions are for these birds varies widely, however it is generally accepted that the battery cages are cruel. In fact Switzerland banned them in 1992. A few other nations have followed suit, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Hens do not need roosters to lay eggs, they start laying at about five months of age and continue for several years, although laying production declines with age, and slows in the winter (under normal lighting conditions) and when moulting (shedding feathers to grow new ones). Battery hens are kept under unnatural light conditions and often killed at the end of their first laying season when they begin to moult (hens normally live over 10 years).
photo source - "95 % of egg laying hens in the United States spend their entire lives in a battery cage like this one. 6-8 birds are confined to a cage this size; each bird having less room than a standard sheet of notebook paper to live her entire life. In these crowded conditions, they are unable even to spread their wings.
In a battery situation the birds are kept many to a small cage. In the European Union the cage standards call for at least 550 cm², roughly 82 in², or a space slightly larger than 12 inch x 12 inch. In the USA, however, this minimum shrinks, allowing no less than 67 in² per bird, or 430 cm², an area about 8 inches x 8 inches. To understand how small this is, a sheet of regular paper is larger.
At one day old the birds are sexed, the females are kept, their beaks cut, and they are vaccinated. The day old males become pet food. The females are crowded through their growing stage and as they near maturity, are moved into the aforementioned battery cages.
It is a boring life, indeed the birds peck at each other because of lack of other stimulation. Besides, pecking is natural. This is why their beaks are cut. If not, they will literally peck out the insides of other birds in their cage. In the wild (yes there are wild chickens) the birds are not in such extreme confinement and only peck at each other to establish dominance. Lesser birds can get away, and a healthy bird would not be killed in such a way. The beaks are cut to avoid this from happening in battery farms.
The cages work in such a way that an egg, when laid, rolls into an opening at the bottom of the cage and is carried away on a conveyor belt. The breed of chicken used in battery farms is not one of the breeds known as “Broody” birds. They would normally not sit on an egg for much longer than an hour or two, however in this system a hen is not even allowed that luxury.
Battery hens are fed diets that are unnatural, and the birds muscles soon atrophy from a lack of exercise. Due to the physical stress of egg laying they often develop a problem known as cage-layer osteoporosis, and may easily suffer from broken bones.
The reason small cages are used is simply so more hens can be kept in a smaller space. This also saves money and time on clean up. Sadly the welfare of the birds is of least consideration.
How to Make Life Better for Chickens
You have the power to change it with your purchasing dollar. You can refuse to buy battery hen eggs. You can lobby the policy makers in your area to change laws. You can buy free range eggs (there are different interpretations of what this means but all are better than conditions in battery cages). You can keep your own free range hens (check your local laws). You can educate others by sharing links like this one that bring these issues to the forefront.
©photo by author. I keep my own free range hens, I sell their eggs for $1 a dozen, I keep prices low because I want to encourage people not to buy battery hen eggs.
*NOTE: Egg shell color has nothing to do with if a hen is free range or battery, it only indicates the type of chicken that may have laid it.