Last week, Animal Place rescued 760 hens from a pasture raised egg operation. I spent 3 days at their rescue ranch to help out and to learn how to treat chickens.
First let me tell you that life on a ranch is hard work! I kind of knew it was not an idyllic life, but gosh! it was really hard. We spent at least 4 hours in the morning cleaning the barns and feeding all the animals. In addition to all the chickens, there was one sheep and a few goats on the ranch. Later in the afternoon, we spent about 2 hours feeding them again and putting them to bed. With pasture raised hens, the first evening was quite hectic. They weren't afraid of the outdoors (like the caged ones would) and they didn't know their new barn yet. So we spent lots of time trying to bring them inside. Complicating things, it was pouring and the pasture was very muddy. All of this needs to be done every day, no days off.
I slept in a little apartment in the main barn. It was very convenient to not have to commute. I shared it with a little mouse. Or maybe there were more, but I only saw one at the time :) It was clearly her home. She was going from the sofa to the fridge to the table without being much afraid of me. I was just super careful to leave my food out of her reach. At 3am every day, the 7 roosters (6 of them come from a cockfighting operation) in the barn decided they saw some sunlight and needed to let the world know about it. I opened my eyes but didn't see anything but darkness. And they crow until the sun really rised! Around 6am, the hens wake up and start clucking away. This is actually a nice sound, and it's also a much more reasonable hour.
I wanted to learn how to treat a chicken. The vets are in my area know a lot about cats and dogs, but consider chickens exotic animals. The ranch manager and her staff took me under their wings, and taught me how to identify a sick hen in a barn full of birds. They showed me how to diagnose them, and treat most common ailments. I cleaned a bumblefoot and bandaged feet. I massaged mite infected legs with vaseline. I cleaned and re-inserted prolapsed vents. I trimmed feathers, gave a bath and blow-dried hens (they actually liked it - the blow-dry part, not the bath :). I learned to give pills and do intra-muscular injections. The injections are mainly to manage pain before a painful treatment, or simply to make their last hours as peaceful as possible. Yes, some hens didn't make it. That's the hardest part of the job. Harder than the barn cleaning!
These rescued hens came from an organic pasture raised facility with a great reputation. Their beaks weren't cut off, they could run around, eat grass, take dust-bath, perch, and lay their eggs in the intimacy of a nest. You would think they would be in great shape. Unfortunately most of hens have vent gleet, probably due to the poor quality of the food they got. Lots of them have some kind of infection (eyes, feet, ears) that made them partially blind or handicapped. They had lots of mites too. All these issues are quite preventable with some vaccination and antibiotics, so why?
Why? Organic eggs sell better and is more profitable than the ones without the organic label. There simply is no humane way to produce eggs profitably.
Try substituting eggs by applesauce or flaxseeds when you bake. The internet is full of recipes. Still want to eat eggs? adopt a hen from Animal Place :)