With many consumers shifting towards local and organic meat, dairy and eggs, it is easy to be swayed to believe these products are produced without the ills we wish to avoid by purchasing them, over their industrialized counter part.
If we choose to take real responsibility for our purchasing power, I believe we should follow it all the way through and know the whole story behind what we eat.
Similar to my “4 Questions to Ask Your Dairy Farmer” post, I have created a list of questions to ask the egg farmers at your local farmers’ market, where a growing percentage of consumers are buying their groceries. The answers you potentially get back, may make you think twice about supporting “ethical” animal products.
History of Egg Production
Many people don’t consciously realize that chickens do not naturally produce eggs for humans to eat. A hen’s egg is intended to be fertilized by a rooster and to grow into a baby chick. This is an egg’s sole purpose. An egg is no more intended as food, than is the menstruation of a mammal.
Eggs are laid through what is called a hen’s vent. The vent is the cavity chickens use for mating, defecating and laying. Anyone who has collected eggs from a chicken can attest to the fact that, often, the shells will be coated with feces due to this, and the fact that hens will commonly defecate in the boxes they lay in.
Chickens will naturally have two broods of chicks per year. Chickens originally only laid 15 to 35 eggs per year — again, it would be the hen’s hope that all of her eggs would hatch into healthy baby chicks. But when people started keeping chickens as captive animals, they realized that hens could be forced to lay more eggs if they weren’t allowed to incubate their prospective babies. If you continue to take a hen’s eggs away, her body will not go into its natural brooding period. Instead, she will create more eggs to try and replace those stolen from her, all in an attempt to create chicks.
Over the thousands of years that chickens have been kept by humans, people have selectively bred hens to lay as many eggs as possible. Today, many laying hens breed upwards of 300 eggs per year! There is absolutely nothing natural about this. This is the product of the farmer’s desire to create an egg-laying machine from a sentient being. And unfortunately for those beings, the egg industry has almost succeeded in doing just that.
A chicken’s body was never intended to create so many eggs, even over a life time, let alone in a single year. Virtually all laying hens suffer from calcium depletion due to this forced and unnatural over production. Because laying such a vast quantity is so taxing on a hen’s body, her sexually productive years (laying years) will be shortened to, often times, less than two years. This is in comparison to what naturally should be approximately 10 years.
Many people have been led to believe that by purchasing organic or cage-free eggs, they are not supporting animal abuse. But few people may know the information listed above.
The cruelty, abuse and killing involved in egg farming is not always apparent, so here is a list of questions to ask your local egg farmer at the farmers’ market next week.
“Do you have roosters?”
If they have roosters and all the birds are cage free, that means you are eating fertilized eggs because roosters will mate with as many hens available to them. In other words, that egg is a potential life that would have grown into a baby chick if it hadn’t been taken from its mother and she had been allowed to incubate it. Some people may say that hens will simply abandon their eggs even if they are fertilized. This does sometimes happen in younger hens, or in breeds that have been so over bred for egg production, that they barely act like chickens anymore.
If you are vegetarian, eggs are already classified as poultry because they are so similar nutritionally to eating the flesh of the animal. But in the case of fertilized eggs, there is no denying that that is a potential life you are eating.
“What do you do with the hens when their egg production slows down?”
Most egg farmers, even those who have cage-free operations, will send their hens to slaughter after only two or three years because it is not economically competitive to keep hens that do not produce hundreds of eggs per year. These poor egg laying birds will be killed and, because they are so small and thin, they are who typically end up in your chicken soup.
Another option many egg farmers use is “force molted” whereby they deprive the hens of food — and many times sunlight — for upwards of two weeks to shock their bodies into producing again. If they allow the chickens to live out the rest of their lives and don’t kill them, it leads to the next question.
“Do you allow the hens to breed and hatch their own chicks?”
Virtually half of all chicks born will be male. Since male birds don’t produce eggs and one rooster can do the same work of 30, farmers will not keep them around. Male birds will be killed early on or allowed to make just their first crow. A popular saying among small-scale egg farmers is “when you hear them crow, they’re ready for the pot.”
If the farmer doesn’t allow the hens to reproduce, that means they are getting chicks from hatcheries.
Male chicks in egg hatcheries will usually be ground up alive for animal feed, or simply suffocated to death in trash bags and thrown away since, again, they are virtually worthless to the industry.
At many hatcheries, beak trimming is common. In beak trimming, usually referred to as “debeaking“, a young chick’s tiny beak is placed against a hot blade where the tip is either burned off or sliced. The reason for doing this is that chickens are socially hierarchal animals and will peck each other excessively due to being forced to live in such closely confined quarters, which is the case even on many free-range farms.
“How many chickens do you have and how much land do they use?”
Simple math should be able to give you the square feet (or inches) that each chicken gets.
You can easily keep 8,000 chickens on one acre of land and still call it free range/cage-free, although that doesn’t necessarily fit into most people’s perception of free range.
The fact is that in order for someone to make a living from eggs, they must have a large number of birds. The less space they use per bird, the more birds that are producing on their property.
What it inevitably comes down to is the fact that eggs were never intended as food for humans. To make your life simpler and to avoid supporting the needless abuse of such sensitive and beautiful animals, please consider cutting eggs and all other animal “by-products” out of your diet.
photo credit: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net