Many people believe that having backyard chickens is more humane than getting eggs from factory and free range farms.
Unfortunately that isn't the case. For every hen in the world there is an unwanted rooster. Because roosters don't lay eggs, and most communities have ordinances that prohibit roosters, they inevitably face death. Because male chicks are deemed worthless they are immediately killed after hatch. If they do manage to survive the sorting process they end up as packing material and unknowingly purchased as pullets (female chicks) by people who want backyard chickens for eggs.
As hens age their reproductive system slows and they continue to lay fewer and fewer eggs. Once a hen no longer lays a large number of eggs, or stops laying altogether, they are abandoned or killed because they are no longer useful. In cases like this they ultimately end up unwanted.
Many times, chickens come to us needing physical and/or psychological rehabilitation. Chickens have fragile immune systems and can easily contract with upper respiratory infections or bacterial infections that enter their body through simple scrapes and end up untreated causing severe joint damage and lameness.
The 305 million female chickens used each year for their eggs (laying hens) endure a nightmare that lasts for two years.
If they survive the debeaking process, hens are shoved into tiny wire “battery” cages, which measure roughly 18 by 20 inches and hold up to 10 hens, each of whom has a wingspan of 32 inches. Even in the best-case scenario, each hen will spend the rest of her life crowded in a space about the size of a file drawer with four other hens, unable to lift even a single wing.
The birds are crammed so closely together that these normally clean animals are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. The stench of ammonia and feces is overwhelming, and disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped buildings. Many birds die, and survivors are often forced to live with their dead and dying cagemates, who are sometimes left to rot.
The light in the buildings is constantly manipulated in order to maximize egg production. Periodically, for two weeks at a time, the hens are forced to go hungry by being fed a minimal amount of reduced-calorie feed. This process induces an extra laying cycle, which means more eggs and more profits for the industry.
After two years in these conditions, the hens’ bodies are exhausted, and their egg production drops. These “spent” hens are shipped to slaughterhouses, where their fragile legs are forced into shackles and their throats are cut. By the time they are sent to slaughter, roughly 29 percent of the hens are suffering from broken bones resulting from neglect and rough treatment.
Their emaciated bodies are so damaged that their flesh can generally be used only for chicken noodle soup, companion animal food, or “canned, boned, and diced” meat, much of which goes to school lunch programs.
The sex of day-old chicks is determined at the hatchery. Sexing chicks (determining whether they are a hen or a rooster) requires considerable skill and is done at this very early stage to determine their fate.
If strong and healthy, the female chicks remain in the hatchery, they are grown to a suitable size and then transferred to a laying facility — which could be a caged, free-range or barn set up. Male chicks are considered an unwanted byproduct of egg production for two reasons: they cannot lay eggs and they are not suitable for chicken-meat production. This is because layer hens — and therefore their chicks — are a different breed of poultry to chickens who are bred and raised for meat production. Layer hens are bred to produce eggs whereas meat chickens are bred to grow large breast muscle and legs.
Every year millions of male chicks are tossed into trash bags to suffocate or are thrown into high-speed grinders called “macerators” while they are still alive.