According to the American Egg Board, there are 235 million laying hens in the U.S.
Egg production in April 2009 was 6.41 billion. In major egg producing states, flocks of 100,000 are not uncommon, and some factories have 1 million hens.
Okay, so now you know the numbers. Let’s talk about what really goes on behind these figures.
The life of a laying hen:
The millions of laying hens producing these impressive numbers of eggs, are confined to small, wire cages known as battery cages. The USDA seems to think that each hen only needs 4” of feeding space, so four hens are usually packed into a space 16” wide.
They are unable to perform natural behaviors such as nesting and dust bathing, and lack sufficient room to spread their wings. Hens are often feather pecked, leading to injury, loss of feathers, and sometimes death.
In order to reduce the severity of these injuries, laying hens are debeaked. This means that part of the beak is cut off using a hot blade. As you may have guessed, no anesthesia is used. It is an extremely painful procedure, but standard practice in the poultry industry.
Not only is debeaking barbaric and painful, it makes eating difficult.
Hens lay approximately 250 eggs per year, and do not usually live much longer than that. Spent hens are sent to slaughter to be used in pet food and pot pies.
Farmers sometimes use “forced molting” to get one more year of laying out of their hens. Hens are starved for up to 18 days, kept in the dark and deprived of water. This shocks their bodies into another cycle of egg laying. Estimates put the number of hens that die as a result at around 5%-10%.
Whatever happened to the male chicks that hatched?
Surely some of the chicks that hatch are males. Don’t you wonder what happens to them?
Laying hens are bred for high egg production, so there is not much meat on them. When the chicks are sexed in the hatchery, males are ground up alive or thrown in the garbage. Literally.