Factory farmers cut the beaks of egg-laying hens to reduce injuries caused by them pecking at each other in confinement. A blog about backyard chicken raising notes, The most common reason for pecking order violence is crowding. Each hen needs a minimum of 4 square feet of floor space inside and another 8 outside. Factory farmed hens get no real floor space at all; they’re in indoor cages that have wire bottoms, not proper floors. The wire mesh cuts into their feet, causing abscesses; the wire walls rub feathers off and abrade their skin.
Debeaking, or beak trimming, is considered necessary in close confinement. Hens’ beaks, cut when they were chicks, may grow back enough to be cut again. A college textbook again provides instruction:
An electric debeaker or dog toenail clippers may not be available. A sharp knife, either a pocket or kitchen variety, will be adequate. The operation is simple and consists of peeling off the hard outer layer of the tip of the beak. Make a short cut … just deep enough to cut through the hard outer layer. … Loosen the tip edge of the cut with the knife-point so that it can be grasped between the sharp edge of the knife blade and your thumb, or with a pliers. … Peel off the hard outer covering. … There is little or no bleeding. … The exposed soft tissue on the tip is sensitive enough to deter feather pulling and cannibalism. … Redebeaking with an electric debeaker or dog toenail clippers may be necessary.[i]
We know that debeaking causes both acute and chronic pain. The cut causes neuromas, swollen nerves. See this fact sheet on debeaking.
In sheds holding 250,000 laying hens, ammonia fills the air, irritating the birds’ eyes, lungs, and nasal passages. Hens can’t lift a wing, or move without climbing over the others in their cages, or even stand comfortably. The wire mesh floor cuts into their feet, causing abscesses; the wire walls rub their feathers off and abrade their skin. California recently started requiring bigger cages, but the birds’ instincts are still thwarted by living indoors in cages. In nature, they would dust bathe, perch, build nests, and spend much of the day foraging, pecking at the ground. Hens’ productive lives are cruelly extended by forced molting; they are given just minimal nutrition, a state of semi-starvation. In the wild, hens lay about 20 eggs a year in privacy, but humans have bred them to lay about 275 eggs a year in shared cages. Sometimes their claws curl under the wire mesh floors, so they can’t get to their food, and they can starve to death.
Battery cage conditions do nothing to deny ‘ancestral memory’: ‘Chickens in Battery cages which have wire floors … can often be seen to go through all the motions of having a dust bath. If such dust-deprived birds are eventually given access to something in which they can have a real dust-bath … they go in for a complete orgy of dust-bathing. They do it over and over again, apparently making up for lost time. (Dr. Marian Stamp Dawkins)
After a year or two of misery, the hens will be violently pulled from her cages and crammed into others to be taken for slaughter. Viva USA notes, The bones of battery hens are often so brittle that they will snap like dry twigs. … One third of battery hens suffer from broken bones. When a hen no longer can produce enough eggs, she will normally be sold for processed meat products, like canned chicken soup. But if market forces cause the price of these “spent hens” to drop sufficiently, they may be gassed at the farm and composted. Some have survived the process.
Per the excerpt below, eggs produced as a medium for vaccines come from factory farms, too. This isn’t surprising, considering the quantity involved. The article reports that peak production can exceed three quarters of a million eggs a day. The federal government has paid for much of this, investing over $44 million for over 35 farms.
“If you were to drive through an agricultural area that had a lot of egg farms, I doubt that you could tell the difference between one of ours and one of anyone else’s,” said Rich Wisniewski, deputy director of purchasing services at Sanofi, which operates a large vaccine factory in northeast Pennsylvania. (Wall Street Journal)\
I emailed the vaccine company, using two different addresses, to ask about how they raise and “euthanize” (the term used in the article) their birds, but got no response. No matter. Free range vaccines? I don’t think so.
There are vegan egg substitutes for leavening, binding, or adding moisture to recipes. Check out www.egglesscooking.com. Visit www.upc-online.org, and www.all-creatures.org/anex/chicken.html. The magic of the Internet brings you a virtual battery cage.
[i] Richard A. Battaglia, Handbook of Livestock Management, Third Edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001) p. 506