The Modern Egg Industry

Widespread Practices, Inherent Cruelty and Suffering


Disposal of Male Chicks in Hen Hatcheries
A newborn chick is so full of life; so full of enthusiasm and expectations.

From United Poultry Concerns:
What happens to the 250 million male chicks born to the U.S. egg industry each year? Along with defective and slow-hatching female chicks, they are trashed as soon as they hatch. Upon breaking out of their shells, instead of being sheltered by a mother's wings, the newborns are ground up alive or thrown into trashcans where they slowly suffocate on top of one another, peeping to death...

Mercy For Animals reports that:

A common method used to dispose of unwanted male chicks is grinding them up alive. This method can result in unspeakable horrors as a research scientist described, “Even after twenty seconds, there were only partly damaged animals with whole skulls.” In other words, fully conscious chicks were partially ground up. Eyewitness accounts at commercial hatcheries indicate similar horrors with chicks being slowly dismembered on augers carrying them towards a trash bin or manure spreader.
When we buy eggs or products that contain eggs, this is what we do to chicks on their first and only day of life.

United Poultry Concerns explains: “Because the male chicken of the egg industry cannot lay eggs, and has not been genetically manipulated for profitable meat production, he is of no use to the egg industry. Destruction of unwanted male chicks is a worldwide practice.”


The Importance of Knowing the Consequences (to Others) of Your Choices

This video reveals a sample of what is done to chickens in commercial egg operations. Some parts of the video may be disturbing and difficult to watch. If that's the case, please ask yourself, “If I can't even bear to see this animal cruelty, how can I justify participating in it?” As ethical, responsible human beings, we have an obligation to be aware of how our conscious, intentional, and avoidable actions affect others. By recognizing the full impact of our decisions, we can make informed ones.

If you cannot stomach the whole video at once, you can view sections of it at a time. At least watch how the newborn male chicks at the hatchery are treated; that comes at the beginning of the video.

Sometimes it takes a jolt like this to compel people to change long-time habits. Seeing what happens to the animals often makes viewers seriously question their eating choices and consider kinder alternatives.

When you drop eggs from your diet, you no longer have to deny or rationalize the horrible side-effects of that lifestyle choice, you no longer have to push violent images of hen hatcheries and other parts of the egg industry out of your head, and you are no longer obligated to watch videos such as these.



Horrid Conditions for Parent Birds in Hatcheries
A typical hatchery houses thousands of "breeder" hens and roosters. It is dark and filthy. The stench from feces and ammonia is constant and overwhelming. There are dead and dying birds on the ground. The birds have no sunshine, no grass in which to forage, no dirt for dustbathing. Instead of living in flocks, exploring, and roosting in trees, they live in crowded squalor. They have no semblance of a normal life and nothing to do.

The hens are repeatedly mounted by the young roosters. After about a year, the roosters are killed and a new batch is brought in to mate with the hens, who by this time are worn out and bedraggled. By 18 months old, many of the hens have lost half or more of their feathers. Their misery is compounded at slaughter time, from being starved for two or more days days beforehand. (Most animals raised for meat, milk, or eggs are starved for a period of time before being killed, as a cost-cutting measure.) The slaughter itself, described later in this section, is violent and filled with pain and agony.

This video is of a hatchery that produces "meat" chickens, but the hellish conditions are not markedly different than those of a layer hen hatchery. In any case, when you buy eggs or chicken—even if labeled (or more likely mislabeled) "free range"—this is almost always how the parents of the hens or "broiler" chickens are treated. It's a thoroughly miserable existence.


Hens are Forced to Lay 300 Eggs a Year Instead of Their Normal 20
Modern laying hens are human-engineered derivations of wild jungle fowl, which are native to tropical Southeast Asia. Jungle fowl hens lay about 20 eggs in the spring—enough to perpetuate the species—and then give their bodies a rest. Through intensive breeding, the hens that produce today's eggs lay 300 eggs a year—almost an egg a day—until they start to get worn out and their laying rate decreases.

Laying an egg requires resources from the body, notably calcium, the main ingredient in the egg shell. The artificially high rate of laying takes a toll on the hen's body, robbing her of calcium and often causing her bones to grow weak.

Hens have also been bred to lay larger eggs. The combination of so many eggs and the larger size of the eggs increases the chance of complications such as prolapse, a potentially fatal condition in which the egg sticks to the hen's uterine wall. In addition, researchers have found that pushing hens to lay more eggs can lead to malignant tumors in the oviduct (the tube through which the eggs pass).

These hardships are endured by virtually all hens in the egg industry, including those in "free range" and organic operations.

Any egg business is based ultimately on forcing the birds who lay the eggs to produce more eggs than normal. This in and of itself makes "humane eggs" practically impossible.

Most Laying Hens Have Half or More of Their Beaks Seared Off
Chickens use their beaks thousands of times each day to peck at the ground, obtain food, clean their feathers and the feathers of willing friends, and explore. Beaks are also a means of saying "back off" and of maintaining a flock's "pecking order". (Note that in spacious surroundings such as the wild or a well-run sanctuary, squabbles are brief and non-violent.) In short, beaks are one of the main ways that chickens interact with their environment.

In nearly all but the very smallest commercial egg operations (regardless of whether they're cage-free or "free-range") hens are more crowded than normal, and are forced to compete for limited space. Furthermore, when hens are caged—which is the fate for 95 percent of the laying hens in the U.S. egg industry—they're denied any solid ground at which to peck. Being deprived of normal pecking opportunities is highly stressful for chickens, because pecking is such a core, innate behavior in the species. In these circumstances, chickens express their frustration and strong need to peck by turning on each other. The egg industry's response, in the vast majority of cases, has not been to give hens more room and a plot of earth to peck, but to "debeak" them.

Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs describes the process:

An undercover investigator employed in the early 1990s by Hudson's hatchery and breeder farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland said that after a few weeks the company let him debeak chickens. In the process of having their beaks burned off, the birds chirped loudly and defecated profusely: “In pain, these birds flap their wings, push against the machine, and often lose control of their bowels,” the investigator wrote. The stench was terrible: “Smoke rises from the place where the beak meets the machine as the bird loses at least an eighth of an inch of her beak...Because of the speed at which workers handle the chicks, 'hack jobs' result in massive beak loss to some chicks, leaving them unable to eat.” Many birds die within 24 hours from shock and blood loss.
Because the egg industry uses such a high volume of birds, it treats birds killed by various handling processes as an acceptable business loss.

Ian Duncan, a poultry researcher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, notes that that chicks' beaks are filled with pain receptors, and that when the ends of their beaks are removed, chicks experience "acute and chronic pain."


Hens Are Usually Starved (for up to Four Days or More) Before Being Killed Very Young
Hens' egg production starts to decline when they're about 18 months old. When they can no longer lay enough eggs to be profitable "assets"—usually at about two years old—they're considered worthless by the egg industry and destroyed. To save money, most commercial egg farms stop feeding "spent" hens a few days before killing them.

In sanctuaries, hens can live ten years or more. Their wild ancestors have lifespans of up to 25 years.


Young Hens Do Not Willingly Walk to Their Deaths
When it's time for them to be killed, "spent" laying hens are typically grabbed by their legs, held upside down, and thrown into a cage or drawer, for transport. The experience is terrifying for the birds, who thrash and scream, trying desperately to escape. Chicken catchers have admitted that when capturing birds to be killed, they inevitably step on some and carelessly slam others into objects, breaking their wings. Eyewitnesses confirm these cruelties.

Lots more to come...