Sexing chickens involves a staggering level of cruelty, forcing the internal sex organs of newborn chick to protrude out so the sexer can sort females from males. To hear the helpless chirps and screams of these animals is horrifying. Male chicks will be killed through suffocation. Eggs are cruel for many many reasons, starting with the horrific cruelty of the hatcheries that sell birds to egg farms and backyard chicken keepers alike.
When a sanctuary spends $50,000 of its hard-earned donations to transport 1,150 “spent” egg-laying chickens who have seen nothing but the inside of a battery cage across the country to give them a second chance at life, some people say things like, “it should be illegal,” or “what a waste of resources” or “are these people crazy?” But when the poultry industry spends millions shipping live chicks in the mail and makes a big profit on their lives to boot, no one has a problem with that.
I’ve seen a lot of media coverage lately about salmonella and backyard chickens. The Center for Disease Control has issued specific guidelines for backyard chicken keepers for avoiding salmonella, claiming that salmonella is “common” in chickens. But is the media sensationalizing the issue, blaming chickens for a problem that really belongs to their breeders and scaring people away from having contact with chickens?
As someone who rescues, raises and advocates on behalf of chickens, one of the biggest challenges I face is getting people to see the chicken BEFORE the egg. Even many of those who are fond of chickens and keep them in their backyards, see them first as egg-laying machines, as if to ovulate on a daily basis were their primary purpose for existence. Our perceptions are heavily distorted by egg-industry marketing that has relentlessly “dumbed-down” the chicken’s identity since the 50s.
Some of you may recall that our wonderful hen Sweet Pea needed to have exploratory surgery in March to determine the cause of a large and growing mass in her abdomen. Fortunately it was not a tumor, but the news was nevertheless sobering. An egg had ruptured through her oviduct and into her abdomen. Her liver was very enlarged and damaged and masses of fatty tissue were forming around it — a condition called fatty liver disease. Weeks after the surgery, the swelling and redness began to come back and worsen. Yesterday we took her back the vet again. Learn more about Sweet Pea’s condition and how you can help.
There’s a lot of buzz in the animal protection movement about a new chicken intelligence study that, once again, maintains that chickens are even more intelligent than we once thought. Not surprising, of course, considering the absolutely abysmal and distorted perception our society perpetuates about chickens today. And yet the attitude of surprise that surrounds such studies and the reaction to them reveals a very powerful cultural distortion in itself — that chickens are essentially stupid.
The following is a letter I wrote and sent today to the Goodman Community Center in Madison, Wisconsin after discovering a small flock of backyard chickens behind the building. The conditions under which I found these hens living is a good example of a widespread problem in our society with regard to the growing trend of keeping backyard chickens. It all starts with misconceptions about who these birds really are and too often ends in tragic consequences for the animals.
In addition to being severely underweight and anemic, suffering a severe biting mite infestation, drooping her head and keeping her eyes closed, Lucinda exhibits a disfiguring beak deformity that is a result of partial beak amputation, a standard practice on egg hen farms, including farms that sell their eggs under “free-range,” “cage-free,” and other “happy hen” labels.
Our heroine, Melissa Summer Pena, rescued Lucinda today from Chicago Animal Control and Care (a kill shelter), describing her as the sickest looking bird she’s seen. In addition to being severely underweight, emaciated, drooping her head and eyes closed, she has a terrible biting mite infection. She’s been treated with mite powder and needs to see the vet in the morning. Lucinda’s beak has also been amputated, a common practice by egg farmers.
My personal opinion and that of people I know who have rescued enriched colony caged hens is that there is no difference in health between the battery and colony caged hens. I also believe from evidence I have seen that there is not much difference between barn versus free range hens either. Because of the laws, free range hens can be kept indoors in barns with not much room to move around (like broiler chickens), and this is marketed as “free range.”
This a moving, non graphic video that tells the magnificent story of one farmer of caged egg laying chickens who apparently had a change of heart and released them to Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary in Australia. For the first time in their lives, the rescued chickens in this video are getting an opportunity to exhibit their natural behaviors. The video highlights some of the chicken’s most basic pleasures in life: stretching and flapping their wing, sunbathing, dustbathing, scratching in the earth and forming social bonds with others in their flock.
Spend enough time reading about the quotidian tribulations of poultry proprietors and you quickly learn about the centrality of violence in chicken ownership. In point of fact the chickens, so long as they are pumping out eggs with sufficient speed, are typically treated with a measure of decency, but woe to any creature that comes between a chicken owner and her precious eggs.
People often ask me why I have chickens. “Is it for the eggs?,” they ask. Now of course, what this question implies is that there is no other value to chickens than the eggs they produce. In fact, I find people far more interested in the fancy colors and sizes of chicken eggs than I do about the birds who lay them. Isn’t that interesting? We’re a culture that is fascinated with objects. And the egg is perhaps the most poignant symbol of fertility in many cultures, including our own. And in a way, this symbol has distracted us from something much more important which I hope to touch on here.
Sweet Pea is one of the adopted chickens in our care since 2009 who now needs surgery and hospitalization for a condition due to her egg laying. This video covers Sweet Pea’s recent visit to the vet for an initial exam. If you would like to help, we welcome your donations. You can make a donation at freefromharm.org. See the donate option in the main menu. Thanks in advance! And please share this video to educate others about egg laying hens. As Sweet Pea’s situation demonstrates, there is no such thing as a “cruelty-free” egg.
The Story of an Egg is a short documentary that claims “we need a lexicon of sustainability.” Has a nice ring to it, right? By using factory farming as a moral baseline, the film would have us believe that the simple solution to feeling good about the eggs you buy is to look for the “pastured” or “pasture-raised” label.
“What do you do with all the eggs if you don’t eat them?” is the most common question I get about the chickens in my care. The assumption underlying this question is that chickens lay eggs in the same way that fruit falls from trees. Now the truth of the matter: The hen’s reproductive systems is manipulated by breeders to produce those eggs through selective and genetic breeding technologies that push the limits of the bird’s capacity to reproduce, and her body can only keep up for a short window of her life (1 to 2 years).
One of the most misunderstood and frequently-asked about subjects on our site is eggs and the chickens that lay them. The industry behind the breeding, raising and slaughter of hens is largely hidden from consumers. The birds that lay these eggs are widely regarded as nothing more than “egg laying machines,” thanks to a concerted effort to obliterate their true identity by the industry that commodifies them for a single purpose.
“Any time consumers of meat, eggs or dairy advocate for ‘humane’ treatment of farm animals, they confront an unavoidable paradox: the movement to treat farm animals better is based on the idea that it is wrong to subject them to unnecessary harm; yet, killing animals we have no need to eat constitutes the ultimate act of unnecessary harm.”
This short video chronicles the life of Angelica, a sweet little hen rescued on Thanksgiving Day. Free from Harm director Robert Grillo explains the rescue. the care Angelica received and her untimely passing on December 18th. This video also probes the bigger questions about the egg hatcheries where hens like Angelica are bred and their connection to the backyard chicken movement, factory egg farming, organic, free-range and cage-free labeling and the deeply misunderstood obstacles that egg-laying hens face, regardless of their upbringing.