Factory Egg Production
Modified Cages for Egg-laying Hens
Access Farm Sanctuary Research Report,
Welfare of Hens in Battery Cages
There are more than 280 million egg laying hens in the
U.S. confined in battery cages small wire cages stacked
in tiers and lined up in rows inside huge warehouses. In accordance
with the USDA's recommendation to give each hen four inches
of 'feeder space,' hens are commonly packed four to a cage
measuring just 16 inches wide. In this tiny space, the birds
cannot stretch their wings or legs, and they cannot fulfill
normal behavioral patterns or social needs. Constantly rubbing
against the wire cages, they suffer from severe feather loss,
and their bodies are covered with bruises and abrasions.
In order to reduce injuries resulting from excessive pecking
an aberrant behavior that occurs when the confined
hens are bored and frustrated practically all laying
hens have part of their beaks cut off. Debeaking is a painful
procedure that involves cutting through bone, cartilage, and
Laying more than 250 eggs per year each, laying hens' bodies
are severely taxed. They suffer from "fatty liver syndrome"
when their liver cells, which work overtime to produce the
fat and protein for egg yolks, accumulate extra fat. They
also suffer from what the industry calls 'cage layer fatigue,'
and many become 'egg bound' and die when their bodies are
too weak to pass another egg.
Osteoporosis is another common ailment afflicting egg laying
hens, whose bodies lose more calcium to form egg shells than
they can assimilate from their diets. One industry journal,
Feedstuffs, explains, "...the laying hen at peak
eggshell cannot absorb enough calcium from her diet..."
while another (Lancaster Farming) states, "...
a hen will use a quantity of calcium for yearly egg production
that is greater than her entire skeleton by 30-fold or more."
Inadequate calcium contributes to broken bones, paralysis,
After one year in egg production, the birds are classified
as 'spent hens' and are sent off to slaughter. Their brittle,
calcium-depleted bones often shatter during handling or at
the slaughterhouse. They usually end up in soups, pot pies,
or similar low-grade chicken meat products in which their
bodies can be shredded to hide the bruises from consumers.
With a growing supply of broiler chickens keeping slaughterhouses
busy, egg producers have had to find new ways to dispose of
spent hens. One entrepreneur has developed the 'Jet-Pro' system
to turn spent hens into animal feed. As described in Feedstuffs,
"Company trucks would enter layer operations, pick up
the birds, and grind them up, on site, in a portable grinder...
it (the ground up hens) would go to Jet-Pro's new extruder-texturizer,
the 'Pellet Pro.'"
In one notorious case of extraordinary cruelty at Ward Egg
Ranch in February 2003 in San Diego County, California, more
than 15,000 spent laying hens were tossed alive into a wood-chipping
machine to dispose of them. Despite tremendous outcry from
a horrified public, the district attorney declined to prosecute
the owners of the egg farm, calling the use of a wood-chipper
to kill hens a "common industry practice."
In some cases, especially if the cost of replacement hens
is high, laying hens may be 'force molted' to extend their
laying capacity. This process involves starving the hens for
up to 18 days, keeping them in the dark, and denying them
water to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle.
Commonly, between 5 and 10% of birds die during the molt,
and those who live may lose more than 25% of their body weight.
For every egg-laying hen confined in a battery cage, there
is a male chick who was killed at the hatchery. Because egg-laying
chicken breeds have been genetically selected exclusively
for maximum egg production, they don't grow fast or large
enough to be raised profitably for meat. Therefore, male chicks
of egg-laying breeds are of no economic value, and they are
literally discarded on the day they hatch usually by
the cheapest, most convenient means available. Thrown into
trash cans by the thousands, male chicks suffocate or are
crushed under the weight of others.
Another common method of disposing of unwanted male chicks
is grinding them up alive. This can result in unspeakable
horrors, as described by one research scientist who observed
that "even after twenty seconds, there were only partly
damaged animals with whole skulls". In other words, fully
conscious chicks were partially ground up and left to slowly
and agonizingly die. Eyewitness accounts at commercial hatcheries
indicate similar horrors of chicks being slowly dismembered
by machinery blades en route to trash bins or manure spreaders.