Laying Hens: Cracking Open the Egg Industry

A laying hen spends all of her life in a battery cage, crammed in with three to seven other chickens. She stands, for the entirety of her severely truncated lifetime, in a space approximately the size of an iPad. Her cage is inside an enclosed shed, filled with tiers of cages just like hers. Laying hens are forced to live as if their natures were negotiable. She is sick, bored, debeaked, and in pain. After approximately 72 weeks, she is ripped from her cage, and sent to slaughter.

An Australian-first investigation by Animal Liberation and Aussie Farms reveals the mass killing of ‘useless’ male chicks and the painful “de-beaking” of day-old females. Read more here.

Unwanted Male Chicks

For every egg-laying hen born into the Australian egg industry, a male chick is born who can’t lay eggs, and therefore, has no commercial value. Every year in Australia, approximately 12 million of these chicks are macerated (ground up alive) or gassed in the first day of their lives. They are considered, and treated, as ‘waste products’. In a practice the Australian egg industry shares with the duck meat industry, a large number of weak, deformed, or unprofitable females are also macerated.

In collaboration with Aussie Farms, Animal Liberation exposed the horrific reality of this maceration for the first time ever in Australia. Captured on camera is the maceration process, along with the painful practice of “de-beaking” inflicted on the female chicks. Filmed at one of the country’s largest hatcheries, owned by Specialised Breeders Australia (SBA), the footage highlights the inexcusable cruelty and suffering behind every carton of eggs, from caged to free-range.

Poor Health

 Hens suffer from the poorest bone and muscle strength. Their bones are brittle and weak muscles are a result of an over-production of eggs and lack of exercise and mobility. A high percentage have osteoporosis. By the time they are slaughtered, up to 56 percent of battery hens suffer from painful fractures. Furthermore, the lack of movement causes bone disease and fatal fatty liver condition.

Additionally, the wire flooring of the cage causes toe pad hyperkeratosis. This refers to a thickening of the skin on the feet and is commonly accompanied by deep, open sores and swelling of the foot pads, exasperating underlying issues caused by the accumulation of refuse and excreta.

Due to the lack of cleaning within the cage, a condition known as “bumblefoot" also occurs. Bumble foot refers to a bulbous swelling of the footpad caused by infection. Chickens that are forced to live in and near waste are far more susceptible to this incredibly painful infection.

Painful Procedures (“De-Beaking”)

Due to the stressful, overcrowded living conditions, the hens often peck at each other. In natural environments, this assists the birds locate themselves and each other in “the pecking order”. However, within the Australian egg industry, producers consider this to be a threat to production, and therefore, a threat to profit. The Australian egg industry subjects newly born birds to a procedure known as “de-beaking”. This refers to the severing of a third of the chick’s beak, ostensibly to reduce the incidence of cannibalism, causing excruciating pain. As the beak is full of nerves, and the nerves in the severed beak remain active, hens suffer for months, and perhaps years, afterward the procedure. Those that survive have great difficulty eating for the rest of their lives.

The Cage

Naturally, chickens spend their days dust-bathing, stretching, roosting, nesting, exploring by pecking, and scratching. Confined within battery cages, none of these natural behaviours are possible. Footage shows hens desperately attempting to dust bathe on the barren wire floor, causing pain, frustration and stress. This lack of mental stimulation causes the animal to suffer for the duration of their lives.