Meet Fennel, Sweetie, and Curry, three of our hens who have been rescued respectively from a caged, cage-free, and a pasture egg farm.
Fennel was a very loving hen. She adored being petted and would just sit on our laps and relax. Many came to meet her. For some it was the first time they touched a chicken. She came to our pet chicken care classes and showed how chickens are wonderful companion animals. She also took our dog's place on a visit to a local hospice where she charmed an old lady by sitting an hour on her lap. She actually captivated the whole facility, staff and patients came to greet her.
Before touching so many, Fennel spent the first year and a half of her life in a conventional farm where hens are confined in cages. As a white leghorn, Fennel had a mere 67 square inches of floor space to live on, less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper! The cages are made of wire, including the bottom to let the feces fall through which then pile up on the ground below. So, in addition to spending her life on top of the ammonia fumes, Fennel developed a staph infection on her feet (aka bumblefoot) from standing on wires all day long. In this bare environment, Fennel couldn’t nest, perch, scratch, nor dust-bathe. Because she couldn’t do any of these vital natural behaviors, she was covered in lice and her nails were so overgrown that she couldn’t stand or walk with her feet flat on the ground. On top of that, her beak was cut when she was a few days old without any pain relief to prevent her to pick fights with her cage mates out of frustration.
80% of the egg laying hens in the US are like Fennel’s.
Sweetie is our Queen of Diamonds. She spent lots of time in the house when we got her and now prefers hanging out with humans than her fellow chickens. She made her debut at camps this summer and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the kids. She loves grapes, shiny objects, and painted nails! She learned to play cards (see our Queen of Diamonds in action) and loves to show off her skills to demonstrate how smart chickens are.
Before being an ambassadress for her species, Sweetie lived the first two years of her life in a cage-free farm. Instead of being stuck in a cage as Fennel was, she was confined in a big windowless barn with many thousands of other hens. She was able to walk, perch, dust-bathe, and nest which is critical to her well-being, but she never got to go outdoors. She never felt the grass under her feet nor the sun on her feathers. She lived indoors on top of the feces piling on the floor as the barn is only cleaned after the flock is killed and before a new flock moves in. Due to the high density of birds in her farm, Sweetie’s beak was cut off like Fennel’s. Sweetie was full of internal and external parasites when we picked her up from the farm. She also had salpingitis (an inflammation of the oviduct) and underwent a lifesaving surgery where her oviduct and lots of egg materials stuck in her belly were removed.
20% of the egg laying hens in the US are cage-free.
Curry was a sweet loving spirit. She knew what she wanted and always managed to make it happen. This is actually how she joined our sanctuary. She spent several days of following me while I was helping with her rescue, and seduced me into adopting (read her story here). She was very curious and social. She loved people and enjoyed all the attention she could get. She had a particular love for gardening and was the first one to jump in any holes we were digging.
Curry was raised on a pasture which meant she was outdoors all the time. For 3 years, she could run, stretch her wings, scratch, dust-bathe, and even sun-bathe! She had her full beak unlike Fennel and Sweetie that allowed her to fully interact with her environment. But her pasture was not a lush green field of tall grass and wildflowers as depicted on egg cartons, it was a big barren dirt field where she was at the mercy of the elements with only a tiny shed to shelter her at night. 10% mortality due to predation is common in this type of egg operations. Pastures are not a natural habitat for chickens. Their ancestors, the jungle fowl, live in forests where they can escape ground predators by flying up into trees. At the time of her rescue, Curry was very scruffy looking, breathing with difficulty, missing an eye, and mostly blind from the other one. Her whole flock had respiratory infections, many had swollen faces, and abscesses around the eyes. Since the farm was selling organic eggs, it meant that Curry didn’t get the antibiotics she needed to cure her respiratory infection and eye abscess.
Less than 1% of the egg laying hens in the US are pasture-raised like Curry’s.
Despite having a quite different life in their respective farms, Lily, Sweetie, and Curry share the same past. They all come from a hatchery where they were incubated by machines away from their mothers. As soon as they hatched, most females are debeaked while the males are systematically killed (because males from the egg layer breeds don’t grow big enough to be used as meat). Their parents come from a breeding program where they are bred to lay an unnatural number of eggs.
Looking at the lives of Fennel, Sweetie, Curry, and all the other hens we've rescued, eggs are really not natural nor cruelty free.