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How to Be an Ethical Egg Eater

  • by
  • October 29, 2012
  • 7:00 pm
How to Be an Ethical Egg Eater
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It’s hard to argue with vegans’ reasons for excluding eggs from their diet. To start, laying hens are crammed into wire cages that allow each hen a living space less than the size of an 8 Ĺ” x 11″ sheet of paper. Virtually every natural behavior is thereby thwarted, including nesting, scratching, foraging, preening, dust-bathing and simply flapping their wings. Disease runs rampant, the stench of ammonia from feces saturates the air inside the shed and carcasses are left lying among the surviving hens. At only two years of age, after being forced to produce more eggs in that time than their bodies are designed to handle, these hens are “spent” and so sent to the slaughterhouse for processing.

There’s also the horrifying fact that for every laying hen subjected to this systematic abuse, there is a male chick — more than 200 million of them every year – that’s killed the day it’s born, tossed into a trash bag to suffocate or ground up by a macerator while it’s still alive. Why? Because it can’t lay eggs (being male) and won’t grow fast enough to be profitably raised for meat (having been born as a layer versus a broiler chick). These are the widespread practices of an egg industry focused on maximizing profits at any cost to animal welfare and ethical responsibility.

Nonetheless, ethical egg eating can be done under the following circumstances:

1. The Egg Comes from a Free and Happy Hen

A happy hen has a comfortable place to live and is free to engage in every natural behavior that occurs to her, including broodiness (see #4 below). As she would in the wild, she lives among several other hens and a rooster. She’s well cared for and raised by a local farmer you trust or by yourself in your own backyard, in which case she can be considered part of your family, a beloved pet like any other.

2. The Egg Is Unfertilized

This addresses the fundamental moral issue of taking a life to satisfy one’s appetite. As explained by Umbra on Grist, “It is not my opinion but rather a fact that if a hen’s egg has not been fertilized by a rooster, no embryo or chick will form.” So no life will be taken by eating an unfertilized egg. A hen will lay eggs regardless, and “in the wild,” according to Library Index, “the hen would leave infertile eggs to rot or be eaten by predators.”

You can “candle” eggs, or hold them up to a light, to figure out which are fertilized and which are not, according to LocalHarvest.org. The ones that appear opaque are fertilized.

You can ensure that hens will lay only infertile eggs by keeping roosters off the premises, away from the hens, but would that be ethical? I spoke with one farmer, Nigel Waters of Eatwell Farm in the Sacramento Valley, who produces pasture-raised, free range, organic eggs, and he believes that his hens could easily do without any roosters around. But another farmer, Stephanie Alexandre of Alexandre EcoDairy Farms in Crescent City, California, argued that her roosters are integral to the social order on the farm, helping to protect the hens and keep them in line, and of course sounding the wake-up call for all. “In natural conditions,” as explained on Library Index, “chickens tend to live in small groups composed of one male chickenÖ and a dozen or more female chickens.”

At any rate, while well-meaning eaters may choose to eat only infertile eggs, they are nonetheless also implicated in whatever becomes of the eggs with actual prospects for life. So let’s consider that next.

Next: Chicks (Male and Female) Are Nurtured, Free and Happy

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298 comments

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9:05PM PDT on Sep 2, 2013

I think it's important to support the many small, local farmers who use free range hens to produce eggs. If you don't support people using ethical/humane methods of raising animals, it's just not going to happen.

11:30PM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

Sorry, Cheryl, but that makes little to no sense. If one EATS fertilized eggs, then they are consuming living creatures, technically. If one has their own hens and gathers the eggs, a rooster definitely is not necessary, and one still gets the eggs. I do have my own hens, and at 4 months of age, they are laying. I'm finding 4 eggs every single morning. The hens are up and outside, scratching in their yard at dawn. I am a nite owl, so usually just going to bed at that time. By the time I get up and go out to feed critters, I'm finding the eggs in their nesting boxes and the hens most definitely are not sitting on them. They definitely have the instinct to deposit their eggs in the proper place, but I guess "instinct" doesn't extend to being a good parent, not that their eggs would ever hatch in the first place, since no rooster around. Their area (yard and coop) are protected from predators and they've never had to fear predators, but their instinct to do so is there. If my dog or one of my 4 cats approaches the perimeter fence, they most definitely run to the other side.

12:38PM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

It's more humane to buy fertilized eggs than unfertilized, because that means some roosters have been saved. Realize that about half the chicks that hatch are male, and you can't keep all of those roosters in a flock, meaning that you have to have a flock of all males as well as a flock of females with some of the less aggressive males. Having half males and half females results in a lot of fighting, over-aggressiveness toward the females, and suffering and death to both sexes.

A hen needs to sit on an egg for an extended period of time for it to develop. Most eggs never have the opportunity to be hatched by a hen because no one wants to sit on it. It's not like mammals, where the fetus starts developing immediately. If the eggs are gathered everyday, it has not started developing.

Further, the hens should be protected from predators. Too many "free range" birds live in fear and are torn to shreds by predators, who then lose their fear of people and reproduce unsustainably, and then the hunting starts and you've destroyed the ecosystem balance.

Chickens make great pets. And this article had good intentions, but is clearly written by someone who has never raised chickens. Vegans, vegetarians, if you want any credibility with a wider audience, you really need to fully understand the farm animals you are trying to help, or you will be laughed out of the room. Thanks for the good intentions, however.

4:44AM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Yup, my "girls" are 4 months old now and laying every day. I have 6 hens, and usually find at least 3, sometimes 4 eggs every morning. They're somewhat on the "small" size, but doesn't matter. If my math is anything close to being accurate, each egg is worth about $100 so far (the cost of feed, constructing their pen and coop, feeders, waterers, etc.) but those things are now here and hopefully, the only thing that will continue to cost money will be their feed. They're also acting as "garbage disposals" and greedily go for everything that I toss out for them. As I said, the "size" of the eggs being laid so far is a bit on the small size, but they're quite heavy in weight. Most of the egg is yolk! No roosters and my girls are quite capable of laying and seem quite adept at it.........there are 6 nesting "boxes" filled with shavings and that's exactly where they're doing it. They have free access to their yard and let themselves out every morning at dawn and at dusk, they're happily back in their coop, roosting on one of the 4 poles inside.

2:37AM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Im lucky enough to own some VERY spoilt chickens, and have no worry in eating eggs. They are very well looked after and the eggs are delicious and very good for you. Im extremely against buying caged or barn laid eggs, and even beforehand was very choosy in my selection of free range. Hens lay eggs regardless of them being fertilized or not, and holy cow, people dont understand this! Friends dont understand that we dont need a rooster to get eggs.
Also, they love eating the shells, so we simply "recycle" the shell and feed it back to them. There's nothing ethically wrong with eating eggs if its gone about right - the nutritional value of it is hard to argue with chooks that are as spoilt as ours.

4:12AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

To each, their own. I have no desire to keep a rooster. I figure 6 hens will provide me with more than enough fresh eggs,and what I can't use will be donated to the local food bank. Lady down the road has 4 hens and 1 rooster and he (the rooster) seems to always be in the yard by himself, in the road, etc. Geez, these hens are getting aggressive ENOUGH. They fought like banshees over an avocado tonight!

2:40AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

Diane L, you were doing ok until you started writing about Roosters, wrong I am afraid. I deliberately went looking for a rooster when my boy (who was very loving and gentle) died. You ar right in that on the whole too many roosters are born and killed as unwanted / unrequired which is awful but you can't generalise that they are all nasty and aggressive. I now have 4 boys that all eat grapes out of my hand, enjoys being cuddled and come looking for it too! They have gentle faces and especailly buff orpingtons are just very passive and quiet peaceful birds. They also protect my girls from overhead and land predators, having a specific language of sounds that send all the hens running for cover in a split second if a buzzard flies overhead or a stoat appears. So they are very useful guards too. The do have a purpose in life, it is humans that use them for other means and dispatch which is why I don't agree of people hatching eggs to get.... swweeeett little chicks. Then the problems set in when 3 out of 5 eggs are male and they haven't prepared. Always a human problem.

1:58AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

So, Colin, furthering "playing your game" here, "The problem arises in that, once we allow "some people" to have hens for the purpose of gathering eggs, then it becomes the slippery slope. Where can a line legally be drawn"...........since when does it have to be "allowed" for anyone to have hens for whatever purpose they wish? Unless there are zoning restrictions, as far as I am aware, anyone can have hens.........no laws against it. What would be the "slippery slope" you speak of? What "line"?

BTW, I tried to make my 6 little chicks realize they were "family"...........I named them..........Martha, Gertrude, Hortense, Henrietta, Matilda and Harriett. Not sure which is which, since there are 3 brown ones and 3 black ones and when I approach and call "Martha", they ALL come running! So, I just refer to them as "Martha and the Vandellas".

1:33AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

( cont)..........."Members of the family"? Again, you apparently aren't very knowledgeable about hens/chickens, since they can't be "potty trained", will fight endlessly over a blade of grass, and while they do sometimes "come when called" (mine run to the front of their pen whenever they see me), it's not out of love, but expecting some treats or more food. They will greedily peck each other to pieces if given a chance. Mine are only 3 months old, and I can only imagine how nasty and aggressive they'll be when they start laying!

1:32AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

Colin, I think your defense or explanation of what Wendy stated is because you share her opinions? Not sure, just based on what I've read from you in the past. The point Is that she stated out a post with "How to be an ethical rapist" and then went on to comment about why nobody should eat eggs and how cruel it was, etc. Copied & pasted from one of two of Wendy's (which shows an avatar of a male?)............"Hope, this issue goes beyond eating someone's eggs. It speaks to taking advantage of someone who, if they did not give consent, you would not listen to."............."who is the SOMEONE", just out of curiousity, and nobody is taking advantage of hens who lay eggs on a regular basis, whether fertilized or not, and the latter part of that sentence doesn't even make sense.

Colin, if you'd bothered to read the comments already made, few keep any chickens other than hens, since roosters don't lay eggs and they're aggressive and nasty birds. They're kept for one of two reasons only.............to be raised for meat, or to make more chickens. If you go to a feedstore (where most go to get chicks), they're already "sexed" and sold as "pullets" (female chicks). Few would purposely go to buy a baby rooster. We who have bought baby chicks, buy them to raise to be HENS and hopefully, get delicious eggs from happy, free ranging hens.

"Members of the family"? Again, you apparently aren't very knowledgeable about hens/chickens, since they can't be "potty trained", wil

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