In egg laying factory farms, chickens are kept in warehouses in row upon row of small enclosures, referred to as battery cages. According to the article “Factory Egg Production: Access Farm Sanctuary Research Report” hens are usually packed four to a cage in cages just 16 inches wide. The cages are so small that the hens can’t even stretch their wings. This is where they spend their sad, short lives.
These chickens suffer many ailments during their lives. One of these ailments is osteoporosis which results from hens losing too much calcium due to constant egg production. Sometimes to save even more money, hens are forced to molt. According to this same article, the forced molting process involves keeping hens in darkness and denying them food or water, forcing their bodies into another egg laying cycle. After only one year of egg laying, the hens are no longer valuable to the company. Some spent laying hens are used in foods such as pot pies or soups where the meat can be ground up. At one company however, 15,000 spent laying hens were disposed of by being tossed into alive into a wood chipper. Even worse the district attorney took no action against the farmer and called it a “common industry practice” (“Factory Egg Production”). It seems that it has been forgotten that chickens “are much more socially complex and intelligent than we previously believed” (Williams and DeMello 27).
The even darker side of the whole egg laying process, according to this same article is that “for every egg-laying hen confined in a battery cage, there is a male chick that was killed at the hatchery” (“Factory Egg Production”). These male chicks are of no value to the company, because they have not been breed to produce high-quality meat and so they are disposed of immediately. There are several standard methods of disposing of the male chicks:
- Maceration—using a large high-speed grinder into which the chicks are fed.
- Gases or gas mixtures—often carbon dioxide is used to induce unconsciousness and then death.
- Cervical dislocation—manually induced dislocation of the spinal column from the skull.
- Electrocution—a new method that has been touted as being cheap, reliable, and humane by its developers
This is clearly not a healthy system and it should not be considered acceptable to dispose of thousands of baby birds by chopping them up or simply leaving them to die. This is not an ethical way to raise animals for meat.
So what can you do?
If cutting out eggs completely isn’t an option for you, try to make informed choices when you purchase eggs. Buy from small local family farms or at a farmers’ market. Be wary of eggs labeled “free-range” or “cage-free” that you can find in the grocery store, because the living conditions aren’t much of an improvement for chickens and the disposal of male chicks still occurs.
Williams, Erin E. and Margo DeMello. Why Animals Matter: the Case for Animal Protection. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007. Print.
“Factory Egg Production: Access Farm Sanctuary Research Report, The Welfare of Hens in Battery Cages, Laying Hens.” Farm Sanctuary. Web 3 May 2009.