Egg-laying hens

Each Canadian consumes over 16 dozen eggs per year.[1]  Nearly all of the 35 million chickens raised to lay these eggs are forced to live crammed together inside battery cages [2], small barren wire cages stacked in rows inside filthy windowless sheds that can stretch the length of two football fields.

To see a battery cage from the hen’s perspective, click on the animation here.

Typical battery cages confine five to 11 hens. With each hen given less than half a square foot of living space (an area less than a standard 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper), she is unable to walk freely or even fully stretch her wings.[3]

Virtually every natural instinct and desire is thwarted by the battery cage, denying the hens the ability to build a nest, forage, roost, dust bathe, see the sun, or even feel the earth or grass below their feet.

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.[4]

Nearly 30% of hens have broken bones at the time they are slaughtered.[5]

Sickness and disease run rampant in these squalid living conditions, but in an attempt to minimize costs, even the sickest of hens are denied veterinary care.

Since 2005, numerous undercover investigations in Canadian egg barns have illustrated that cruelty is not the exception, but rather the rule.[6,7]

The investigations have documented the following widespread abuses:

  • Hens with broken, damaged, and feces-covered feathers packed into tiny wire battery cages so small they cannot even spread their wings.
  • Dying, exhausted hens suffering from prolapsed uteruses no longer able to expel eggs.
  • Birds with large, painful ulcers on the soles of their feet forced to stand on bare wire.
  • Birds so dehydrated they are rendered blind.
  • Hens who have escaped their cages wandering in manure pits with no access to water.
  • Hens drowned with power-washers when barns are cleaned.

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 genetically selected exclusively for maximum egg production, they don’t grow fast or large enough to be profitably raised for meat. Consequently, male chicks of egg-laying breeds are of no economic value and are literally discarded the day they hatch, usually by the cheapest, most convenient means available. Every day, hundreds of thousands of male chicks are killed by being thrown alive into grinders.[8]

Once a hen’s egg production declines, she may be disposed of like her brothers by being thrown alive into a grinding machine.[9]

Hens not ground alive on-farm are shipped to slaughterhouses to be used in low-grade chicken meat products.  These hens have their food and water withdrawn for two to five days to further weaken them and make them easier to catch.[10] Workers chaotically thrust their hands into the battery cages, grabbing and pulling the hens out by one leg.  The fragile hens are then slammed into transport crates – 12 to 16 birds per crate.

Cruelty documented during the catching of egg-laying hens:

  • Escaping hens are stomped on.
  • Birds are thrown like basketballs.
  • Hens’ throats are ripped out; their heads ripped off; or their legs, wings or necks are broken.
  • Hens are dropped into manure pits to drown or suffocate to death.

“Few people would keep a hen in a shoe box for her entire egg-laying life; but practically everyone will eat smartly packaged ‘farm fresh’ eggs from battery hens.” The Economist, 7/19/95

Egg-laying hens in Ontario barn. Copyright: CETFA.

References

1 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Canada’s egg industry.  http://www.agr.gc.ca/poultry-volaille/gleg_eng.htm.

2 Egg Farmers of Canada. http://www.eggs.ca/egg-farming/journey-of-the-egg/down-on-the-farm.

3 Canadian Agri-Food Research Council. (2003). Recommended code of practice for the care and handling of pullets, layers and spent fowl.  Poultry-Layers.

4 Davis, K. (1996) Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs (pp. 51-59).

5 Gregory, N.G. & Wilkins, L.J. (1989, Sept.) Broken bones in domestic fowl. British Poultry Science, 30, 555-562.

6 Vancouver Humane Society. (2005). http://chickenout.ca/tour.html.

7 Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Food Animals. (2011).

8 Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Food Animals. (2010). Canada’s cruel hatchery industry.

9 Baumel, S. (2006). Indecent eggsposure: how eggs are laid in Canada. The Aquarian.

10 Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Food Animals. (2011).

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