Just days before they would have been transported to slaughter, a flock of more than 300 hens from a Pennsylvania egg farm got a ride in Farm Sanctuary’s state-of-the-art rescue van instead. The hens, among the rare few who find refuge after lives spent in production, arrived safe and sound at our New York Shelter, where comfort and healing awaited.
As you read this, approximately 350 million hens are being exploited for egg production in the United States. The vast majority of these hens are laying eggs that will be sold for human consumption, while a few million more are laying eggs that will be hatched into more egg-layers.
In any given month, some 40 million egg-type chicks will be hatched, and the approximately 20 million of them who are male, and thus considered useless to egg producers, will be killed immediately; several million “spent” laying hens will be sold for slaughter; and several million other laying hens will fall into the category of “rendered, died, destroyed, composted, or disappeared for any reason.”¹ The egg industry, an immense breeding, hatching, exploiting, and killing machine, is powered by the money of American consumers, who eat an average of 255 eggs per person per year.
Such staggering numbers are made possible by production methods that focus solely on the bottom line. Millions of egg-laying hens spend their short lives crowded in tiny battery cages, their movements so restricted and instincts so frustrated that their bodies are driven to atrophy and their minds to madness.
By choosing “free-range” or “cage-free” eggs, consumers believe they have found a humane option, but these labels are deceiving. Although birds at “cage-free” facilities do not live in battery cages, most endure extreme crowding, have little to no access to the outdoors, receive no individualized care even when desperately ill or injured, and are denied the opportunity to engage in their basic instincts.
The condition of the hens we rescued from the Pennsylvania farm attests to these hardships. For instance, they are debeaked, some of them severely. Debeaking, prevalent throughout the egg industry, is the amputation of a chicken’s sensitive, nerve-filled beak-tip with a hot blade or a microwave. Chickens use their beak-tips to sense and explore their surroundings, but when they are confined so tightly that they cannot even stretch a wing, their natural instinct to establish a pecking order through harmless skirmishes is perverted into a potential source of grave injury. Rather than design facilities that allow chickens to live in a functional flock and find relief from stress through natural behaviors, producers alter the chickens themselves, so they can pack more into warehouses while minimizing any damage to the “product.”
The experience of these hens speaks to another brutal truth of egg production: No matter what type of facility they are raised in, hens are sent to the slaughterhouse when their productivity declines at just two or three years of age. In a sanctuary setting with individualized care, hens can live to around six to eight years old, sometimes even into their mid-teens.
We cannot rescue 350 million hens, but we can offer the 300 newly arrived hens the best possible life at our New York Shelter. These girls have been through severe psychological stress, but as they grow healthier and stronger, they are also learning to embrace the simple pleasures of sanctuary life. And each has a happy life ahead of them filled with nutritious food, individualized care, and a clean, spacious barn. They’ve been enjoying the glorious outdoors most of all. These hens are so excited to be outside that we have trouble herding them into their barn at night — they don’t want the day to end!
At our shelters, it takes expert treatment and support to heal the thousands of hens we have rescued from the egg industry. But in order to put an end to the suffering of the billions beyond our fences, American consumers must stop eating eggs. As long as there is a demand for eggs, there will be an incentive for businesses to exploit and kill chickens. With a growing awareness about the benefits of a plant-based diet and increased availability of alternatives to animal products, there is simply no reason to provide that incentive any longer.
¹ “Chickens and Eggs.” Released March 21, 2014, by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Todays_Reports/reports/ckeg0314.pdf