In a recent e-mail to me, an activist wrote: “Do chickens need to lay eggs? What does Farm Sanctuary do with the eggs that the chickens lay? What would happen to those eggs in the wild if people weren’t consuming them?”
This question is a fairly common one, so I decided to devote a blog entry to it. From time to time, I will use Making Hay to answer your FAQs, so keep the questions coming!
When it comes to chickens, few people know them better than National Shelter Director Susie Coston, who has worked with these birds for more than a decade. According to her, “chickens do lay eggs on their own as part of their natural reproductive cycle. However, the wild South East Asian ‘red jungle fowl’ from which farm chickens have been bred lay far fewer eggs. Like other wild birds, the red jungle fowl have a spring breeding season, during which they lay 4-7 eggs per clutch. That is quite a ways from the domestic farm chickens of today who have been selectively bred to lay eggs year-round at a rate of almost one egg per day!”
This dramatically increased egg production is very demanding on the birds’ bodies, using up a lot of nutrients, particularly calcium, which is used to build shells. At Farm Sanctuary, shelter staff collect eggs daily, hard boil them, smash them up (shells and all), and feed them back to the hens to help restore lost nutrients, especially the calcium, which is in the shells. Lack of calcium leads to broken bones, osteoporosis and formation of shell-less eggs (which can be fatal) so it is essential for the health of the birds, especially those rescued from factory farms, to consume the eggs. And, as Susie points out, “It sounds odd to a lot of people, but it is actually not far removed from their natural behavior, as wild chickens will eat broken eggs so they don’t attract predators. Chickens will also naturally eat their own eggs if they are calcium deficient.”
For many, the act of eating an egg may seem benign, but the reality is that there is no way to escape the animal abuse that goes along with the producing eggs for human consumption. Egg farms, whether they are small or massive, generally buy their chickens from hatcheries. As there is no economic use for boy chicks, they are killed at hatching, often by gassing or suffocation.
Also, after just one to two years, when factory farmed hens' egg production drops off, they are typically slaughtered, only to be replaced by more chicks from the aforementioned hatcheries. Smaller farms may keep the hens a bit longer, but at some point, these birds are also slaughtered at only a fraction of their natural lifespan – because, let’s face it, no profit-minded producer can afford to keep every hen as a companion. While some smaller farmers may slaughter their hens on-site, many are stuffed into cramped cages and sent off to slaughterhouses on open trucks where they are exposed to the elements for hours at a time. At the slaughterhouse, they are yanked from their cages and shackled upside down on the disassembly line, and such rough handling is a common cause for broken bones, broken wings, and worse.
No matter which way an egg is cooked, egregious cruelties, such as the ones mentioned above, are inescapable. And just because someone says it’s “organic” or even “humane,” it doesn’t mean no harm comes to the chickens. (Learn the “truth behind labels” here.)
Supply is driven by demand and the more we vote with our dollars and show that there is a demand for plant-based foods – and alternatives to all animal products – the more these products will be produced and made readily accessible. Since humans can thrive on a vegan diet, and with the abundance of tasty vegan foods available today, it really is easier than ever before to be a compassionate consumer.
For those who claim that veganism is radical or difficult, I beg to differ. What’s radical is the way farm animals, especially laying hens, are treated and exploited, and what’s truly difficult is the knowledge that this kind of abuse is the norm. And what is exciting is that we have the power to change this.
As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, but you can make a darn good tofu scramble!
Me and Camila
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