This weekend I helped with the health checks of 500 hens. Animal Place rescued them from a pasture raised farm who was going to "discard" them. After having dealt with battery cage hens, I was curious to see how these free hens would look like. Surely they must be in better shape than their caged sisters. I unfortunately got disappointed...
The hens were a very scruffy mix of Red Sex Links and Rhode Island Reds. The first thing I noticed when entering the barn was the weird gurgling sounds they made. They had difficulties to breath. Most of them had respiratory infections which have never been treated. Luckily this is curable. The ranch manager already had put them all under antibiotics (in their waterers) and said that things were already starting to improve. When we started examining them, we saw many swollen faces, abscesses around the eyes. Some went already blind because of it.
Why were these hens in such a bad shape? They were left in a big barren dirt field at the mercy of the elements with only a tiny shed to shelter them at night. They weren't given any antibiotics in order to sell their eggs as organic.
And their food, although organic, wasn't of good quality. Few beaks deformities showed the malnutrition.
The only good thing that happened or rather didn't happen to these hens is that they weren't debeaked. Which is not negligible as it's extremely cruel.
They could also dustbath and nest. Two basic needs that are denied to their caged sisters.
Before I was telling my egg-eating friends to at least buy "cage free" eggs, but I can't say that anymore. "Organic pasture raised eggs" are really not much better.
Maybe everybody should have their your own backyard chickens (with adopted hens naturally!).
Or simply eat vegan :)