“They will come running when they think you might have a treat, learn to eat out of your hand and some may even allow you to stroke them. If you talk to them, treat them well and handle them gently you’ll have faithful followers. However, for a truly bonded pet that will seek out your company, follow you around the yard and nestle in your lap for a nap you may want to hand-raise a baby…”
Sounds like a cat or any other normal domestic pet doesn’t it? Guess what? The excerpt above (from this article) is actually talking about chickens. Yes, I wrote that right–chickens. According to more sources than I could list here, chickens do have emotional capacity. In this article from Psychology Today, hens showed signs of distress and fear when a mere puff of air was blown on them. When this same activity was performed on their chicks, their heart rate went up and they became more vocal. They are intelligent, empathetic, and according to my own father (who spent lots of time on the farm as a kid and does a whole lot of reading about raising chickens) they actually prefer to be in a clean environment and take great care to keep themselves spruced up.
So, with this in mind, we really need to think about eggs and the purchasing decisions we make. Even though the cost of a cage-free egg is higher, companies are starting to do the right thing and only use cage-free eggs. Whether this is for marketing or a clear conscience is debatable, but who cares? It is a step in the right direction. According to The Humane Society of the United States research, the following chains should receive a pat on the back for going cage-free:
Then there are other everyday food companies that are phasing into cage-free such as Sara Lee and Pepperidge Farm. Hellman’s mayo, which uses approximately 350 million eggs per year has also committed to using only cage-free eggs.
You may ask yourself why this really matters. Well, factory farms keep chickens in deplorable conditions. Think of it this way: if thousands of cats and dogs were put into cages that allowed them only about the size of a piece of paper to move around on, denied them the ability to move their limbs, and quite literally forced them to live in their own (and their neighbor’s) feces and urine while never seeing sunshine or the outdoors, we’d call that torture and animal cruelty. Yes this is exactly what we do to chickens in factory farm situations. They are used and abused until they no longer produce eggs and then of course they are sent to slaughter. Cage-free means these chickens are not in battery cages, but rather they are usually living on the floor of a barn. Cage-free isn’t perfect, but it is a step up. You can read more about battery cages here.
Free-range eggs are much better. These chickens are allowed to spend time outdoors and move around. They are healthier and have a far better quality of life.
For all the egg eaters out there (and I’m with you — I really love eggs), cage-free (or even better, free-range!) is absolutely the only decent option. The eggs are proven to be healthier and you can have an egg sandwich knowing the source of the meal wasn’t in a state of despair and suffering. However, it is worth taking the time to research the egg company that you most frequently purchase.
Up until a few weeks ago, I purchased Pete & Gerry’s eggs because they are Certified Humane, local (New Hampshire), and they definitely give market themselves as chicken lovers and all-around good folk if you read about their hens. Recently I spoke with someone who visited this farm and learned that the hens are really packed into the barns on the farm and that it was somewhat disturbing to see. That didn’t just make me want to find another humane egg farm, it actually made me decide that eggs from a typical grocery store are just not really for me. If only I could raise my own happy little chickens or have continual access to the eggs at my husband’s family’s farm (they are the happiest, cared for chickens with so much space to roam around in!), I’d be all set.
See how your egg brand rates on this score card.
Watch a video about raising chickens humanely for eggs.
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It’s so horrific the way these poor creatures are treated. Thanks for the great post.
I’ve wanted to keep backyard hens for a while but haven’t yet because I am not sure that even keeping backyard hens is humane. I read on a forum somewhere that wild birds lay unfertilized eggs accidentally but it is of no evolutionary value for that to happen therefore natural selection takes care of the issue. On the contrary, I read on this same forum that humans have ‘selected’ hens that lay eggs accidentally and have therefore promoted hens that are prone to laying unfertilized eggs, (domesticated chickens) which is taxing to their bodies. Is it really taxing? Are they unhappy frequently laying eggs because of the effort it takes to grow and then lay them? Are they peaceful laying eggs so long as they are comfortable and get all the nutrition they need? Can someone shed some light on what I’ve read? Is it cruel to keep hens who lay unfertilized eggs in my backyard?