The Life of an Egg-Laying Hen

Early Life

All egg industry chickens start their lives in a hatchery incubator, with no mother hen in sight.  Once hatched, the chicks are separated by sex. The male chicks, since they are of no use to the egg industry, are disposed of in the most expedient way possible, usually either by throwing them into a grinder alive or suffocating them en masse in plastic bags.  The female chicks, shortly after being born, have the tips of their beaks cut off with a hot blade in order to reduce the effects of the pecking behavior that will inevitably result from their stressful living conditions.

Living Conditions

Approximately 94% of the eggs in the U.S. are produced by hens that live in battery cages their entire lives.  In these small wire cages, they are packed side by side with other hens, without any room to spread their wings, walk, or do any of their other natural behaviors such as perching, bathing, foraging, and nesting.  The wire floors and walls erode their skin, leading to painful lesions and feather loss. The total physical inactivity of life in a cage results in muscle atrophy and weakened, fracture-prone bones.

A tiny minority of laying hens are kept “cage free” – but what does that label really mean?  “Cage-free” simply means the hens do not live in cages, but it does not mean they have space to move around freely.  Cage-free hens usually live with thousands of other birds in long, windowless sheds that have no access to the outdoors.  The air quality in the sheds is compromised by fecal particulate and ammonia gas from the waste products of so many animals living in such a small area.  The stress of crowding and confinement often causes birds to peck at each other, causing wounds and sometimes death.

Labels like “free range” are misleading as well.  “Free range” means that technically the hens are given access to the outdoors, but there are no requirements for the size or condition of the outdoor space, how accessible the space is, or how frequently or for how long the door to the outdoor space is open.  The lack of standards for this label renders it virtually meaningless, a marketing trick employed to sell eggs to customers.

End of Life

At one to two years of age, when egg-laying hens are no longer producing a profitable amount of eggs, they are considered “spent” and are disposed of, either by being gassed on-site and thrown into trash piles at the farm, or transported to the slaughterhouse.  If going to the slaughterhouse, they are piled into crates and transported in all weather conditions without food or water for up to 28 hours at a time. At the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside-down and moved along a fast-paced kill line where their throats are slashed and then they are plunged into boiling water, sometimes still conscious, for de-feathering.

Further Reading:

“Chickens Raised for Eggs”: Click Here

“The Welfare of Animals in the Egg Industry”: Click Here

“12 Facts the Egg Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know": Click Here