Last month we talked about the many different chicken breeds. Let’s have a closer look at the lives of the 7.7 billion egg laying hens living in the world today. 90% of them live in cages. I have been in such an egg farm here in California. There were many sheds in that farm. The shed I went in only had a roof with four open sides covered with rusted chicken wire. There were 3 long double rows of cages in it. A pungent odor was coming from the shed. The floor was covered with more than a foot of feces with lots of bugs crawling on it. The shed gets cleaned only when the hens are replaced with a younger batch. There were about 10 to 12 hens in a cage of approximately 5' by 18". The diagram below shows a section of the cage. The floor is slightly slanted so the eggs roll to the front for easy collection. The wire mesh on the front is bigger allowing the hens to pass their head through to eat from a long manger attached outside. The water comes in a PVC pipe at the back of the cage and has small cups to drink from.
The setup denies the hens all their natural needs like perching, dust bathing, and nesting. Kept in a crowded environment with nothing to do naturally leads to fights. Imagine that you are stuck in an elevator with 10 other people. You can turn around, but barely can sit on the floor and can’t stretch your arms without touching someone. How long would it take before you panic, start arguing or even punch someone? 30 min? 2 hours? 1 day? 1 week? What about 18 months? This is the duration an egg laying hen is confined in a cage until she is considered “spent” and killed. Instead of fixing the causes of the problem and giving them more space, the female chicks have part of their beaks cut off so that they won’t peck each other later when confined. This is a very painful procedure as the beak is full of sensory nerve cells. Chickens use their beak to negotiate fine movements when exploring, foraging for food, preening, building nests, and in social interaction. Very much like we use our hands. This extreme confinement is cruel but yet legal and a very common practice in the egg industry. In 2008, Californians voted yes on Prop 2 to give egg layers more space. Unfortunately it didn’t cover all the egg layers and was quite difficult to enforce. This year, Californians will have the opportunity to improve significantly the life of the hens with Prop 12. The new law removes cages for all egg layers in the state, and also requires this more humane standard from all the farms selling eggs in California. Prop 12 goes beyond the egg industry, and bans extreme confinement in the pork and the dairy industries by banning gestation crates confining mother pigs and veal crates used to keep calves. Here is what Luna thinks about it: