An Insider's Take on Egg Farming
Eggs are a staple for most people; they are cheap, accessible, and versatile. But who pays the real price for these conveniences? For some first-hand perspectives on egg farming, we had a chat with a poultry farm management consultant who’s been in the industry for decades.
Could you paint us a picture of a commercial egg farm?
It’s an enclosed environment, almost like a tunnel. It’s a little dusty and dark with the occasional squawk. There are terraced cages, sometimes stacked 4 or 5 levels high, depending on the farm. You’ll see rows and rows of laid eggs awaiting collection; these are collected perhaps twice a day. Each terrace level has a conveyer belt built to transport the waste away from the cages. But this isn’t an everyday thing; it’s only done every 2-3 days or so, and the cages aren’t cleaned the entire time the hens live in them. Because of this, the smell of ammonia can be overpowering.
Could you walk us through the life cycle of a commercial layer hen?
At one day old, they’re sent out to the layer farms. From there, they will spend their first 14-15 weeks in a chick pen. They’ll then be transferred to wire cages, where they’re given a few weeks to acclimatize. At about 17 weeks, they’ll start laying eggs, and they can lay up to 300 eggs before they reach the end of their commercial lifespan. At around 72-78 weeks, when egg production drops, the hens get sent to processing plants to be made into canned chicken curry, stock, or chicken essence to name a few. The unlaid eggs are sometimes used to make foods like kaya. And then, a new batch of hens come to take their place and the cycle continues.
Which aspect of the process do you find the most unethical?
What that comes to mind are definitely the living conditions; in particular, the cramped space the hens have to share whilst standing on sloped wire flooring for 60 plus weeks. The small cramped spaces, which don’t allow for them to even stretch their wings, usually also results in fighting, deformations, and diseases. This cruel overcrowding inevitably disrupts their natural behaviour, a prime example being, that instead of being able to lay their eggs comfortably and privately in a dark place, they find themselves disorientated and stressed, having to share their space with so many others. This goes on every day for their entire lives.
In a nutshell, commercial egg farming cruelly impacts hens physically and psychologically; reducing their lives to 60 weeks of cramped, unsanitary, and distressing conditions. This exploitation of delicate animals for food, vegan or not, is wrong.