Despite the idyllic image of well fed hens ranging free in fields of lush green grass, the grim reality is that many free range hens never see the daylight.
Sadly, people like you and I are led to believe that cage free hens live a happy, natural life, but this is simply not true.
In most cases, free range hens are still confined to the indoors, usually packed by the thousands into filthy sheds or wire floored enclosures.
When you force thousands of birds into spaces like these, their stress levels undoubtedly rise. As a result, they peck at each other and the vents through which they defecate and lay eggs. Some are even reduced to cannibalism.
USDA and EU regulations regarding ‘free range‘ and ‘organic’ eggs require hens to have access to outdoor areas but there are no rules to say how often these birds must visit the outside world. That’s for the farmer to decide.
Most free range egg farms have small openings in the sides of the shed, but as hens are territorial animals, these entry holes, when open, are fiercely guarded, which means the less dominant birds may never work up the courage to go outside and will in turn end up walking around in darkness for most of their short lives.
While cage free hens might appear to live slightly better lives, the treatment and conditions are in no way humane. Free range egg farms still engage in the following activities that are standard in the egg industry:
Debeaking - Debeaked within the first few days of birth to reduce loss from stress-induced fighting. Despite their sensitive beaks being full of nerve endings, they are given no pain relief and in many cases the procedure deforms their beak, causing them to die from dehydration and starvation due to difficulty eating and drinking.
Artificial Conditions - Kept in artificial conditions where they are denied their natural instincts to dust bathe in clean pasture, feel the sun on their backs and breathe fresh air. Some free range egg operations use wire floored cages which cuts into the hen’s feet.
Forced Molting - Forced molting, which is a practice used to shock the hen’s body into another laying cycle. The procedure involves intentionally starving the hens by removing their food and water for a period of up to two weeks.
Disposing of Male Chicks – All male chicks are killed at just a day old by gassing or grinding them up alive to dispose of them quickly and cheaply because they are unable to lay eggs and are therefore a waste product. Several hundred million male chicks are killed every year in the United States alone.
Many consumers are under the illusion that it is normal and natural for hens to constantly lay eggs. However, birds naturally only lay one or two clutches of eggs a year. It is only through human interference and selective breeding that domesticated hens are able to produce and pass an average of 280 eggs annually. All this extra laying takes its toll on the body of these poor, defenseless creatures, depleting their calcium levels and causing numerous other discomforts and illnesses, leading to early death.
As you can see, free range or not, the egg industry is steeped in unavoidable cruelty. Luckily there are plenty of ways to replace eggs in your diet. From using bananas, flax seed or even applesauce in baking to scrambled tofu for your cooked breakfast, a quick internet search will reveal a whole host of exciting and delicious options.
Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals