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The Cruelty of Battery Hen Cages and Intense Egg Production

Most of the eggs sold in stores come from battery hen operations, just how bad are the living conditions for these chickens? Is eating eggs cruel to chickens? Where to eggs come from? What are battery eggs? How big are the cages used to keep chickens for egg production? Do hens suffer to make eggs?

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).

battery hen cage

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.

battery hens

photo source

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.

battery hen cages

photo source

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.

free range hens

©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.

Related Links

What is a Factory Farm?

Why Won't My Chicken Egg Hatch?

An Egg is NOT a Chickens Abortion

Cruelty of the Food Industry

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Comments (9)

Good article

great article. When my son was young he had a duck that he kept in a cage when he could not be with it but the cage was huge and tall allowing the duck a lot of movement and was designed to sit on the grass so the duck could eat grass and bugs swim in his pool and he was out from the time my son got home from school until he went to be at night. Even then I hated to cage it but we got a neighbor right after my son got the duck that tended to harm animals and we afraid that he might hurt the duck if it wandered too close to the property line. And the cage was 6 feet wide by 8 feet long at least allowing the duck to move and and play.

I used to raise chickens when I lived back home on the farm. We had about 150 chickens and a dozen Muscovy ducks, and they never lived like this! :-( This is just cruel... And until anyone has tried (and I hate this expression-->) 'free range' eggs, they do not understand what they are missing! The yolks are brilliant golden orange, and there is actually a FLAVOR to the egg, not like the store-brand eggs that you need to salt & pepper and fry in a pad of butter to make it so you can gag it down...

Terrible. What everyone should do is buy their eggs from someone they know local who have happy hens. I buy them from a co-worker and I go to her house frequently. The hens are free roaming and have nice heated pens to go in and out of. People who should care about the conditions animals live in if they rely on food from them. That's the big problem with our world. No one cares or looks into the comfort of the animals they get food sources from.

Clay Hurtubise

Interesting article. Watch: http://www.walmartmovie.com/

it is about the high cost of low prices. It focus is on Walmart, but it applies to all chain food.

Ashley

I feel so bad for these hens. It's torture! Just think these hens are miserable, there bodies are full of chemicals produced by misery and then people eat their eggs FULL of misery! It saddens me so much that there are people doing this to so many innocent animals.

It makes me nauseous. I just recently started buying grass fed beef and while I was at the Whole Foods store also decided I should be buying free range eggs. Thanks for the article.

retweeted

Tor

Hi Brenda Nelson,

I am part of Compassion in World Farming which is the only charity working specifically to end factory farming. We are a small but dedicated team who work tirelessly to promote better treatment of farm animals. We are highly impressed by your fantastic article, the cruelty of battery hen cages and the intense egg production; we’d like to congratulate you on highlighting said key issues.

It would be fantastic to an eloquent advocate such as yourself to spread the word about farm animal welfare. Digital online technology has made it possible to reach an audience of millions using the peaceful weapon of the word. It is amazing to note the impact that just one person can have! We would be very grateful if you would like to consider blogging about us and are more than happy to provide you with any additional information or resources which would help you with this.

It's always great to read comments from fellow supporters of farm animal welfare. I wish you all the very best with the name of blog/ forum here, what a fantastic resource. If we can be of any future assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch and we'll help you in any way we can.

Kind regards,

Tor Bailey

Supporter Services Officer

Compassion in world Farming

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