Now, I’m not going to go all preachy or anything, so don’t worry, but I would like to provide you with some information so you can make up your own mind.
I just wanted to put some of the information I found before getting my hens together, so you can see what these ladies have gone through and just how far they’ve come.
Lets have a look at one of my hens…. Mel, as she is and always has been the easiest to get really close to.
Here is Mel a couple of weeks after she came to live with us.
You can see how much redder her face and comb are, although they still have a long way to go.
Mel and her friends, are ‘hybrid’ hens. A commercially produced bird of mixed breeds to optimize egg production.
Once she is fully healthy, her feathers should be smooth and shiny, her face should be red and her comb will be smaller.
Again, this shows the adaptable nature of the chicken.
The hens comb regulates body temperature. Ex-battery hens will never have been outside and will have been shut in a hot, cramped environment under artificial lighting. I’m no expert, but I assume because of being kept in this way, the comb has enlarged to compensate for the constant hot temperature.
This is a photo from the Torquay Girls Grammer School citzienship blog. This is a UK battery farm. This is what my hens have come from. I should imagine there are worse ones than this, but this is, in my opinion, nothing short of hen hell. No sunlight, no grass, no soil, no space, just row upon row of hens…..
I can’t imagine how hot, smelly, noisy and just plain awful it must be in here.
As well as Mels’ comb size and the colour of her face, you will also notice her lack of feathering, she has quite a good covering on her neck, but her wings are quite bare and her bottom is bald!
Here is Mel again, this time having a sunbathe by the pumpkin patch.
You can clearly see how sparse her feathers are…. she has puffed her neck feathers out here (to catch some extra rays!) but all in all, she looks pretty pathetic…. but saying that, she has a darn sight more feathers than some hens who come out of a battery farm.
A battery hen will have spent her whole life stood in a cage, with at least 4 other hens… now, hens aren’t stupid, they get frustrated and irritated like any of us, so with a lack of space, overcrowding, heat, discomfort from being stood on wire mesh the whole time and nothing to see or keep her occupied, fights are going to happen.
When mine eat, the boss hen goes first, if that’s not respected by the others, they get a smart tap on the head…. I would imagine in the battery farm the pecks carry on as they just can;t move out of each others way. They pull each others feathers out, case injury and some I imagine will even be killed.
If a hen manages to draw blood from another, they will just keep attacking, brutal.
As well as losing feathers from pecking or pulling, the hen will of course loose some from constantly rubbing against the sides, top and bottom of the cage.
This picture is from a ‘Happy Egg’ farm in NZ and was rescued by the Action Animal Rescue Team.
You can see the difference! Poor little lady.
Preventing boredom is therefore very important. Space is the best boredom prevention! Not having enough space also helps disease and parasites to spread very quickly.
The sort of things that a battery hen may suffer from include…..
❂ Mareks disease- a virus which causes internal lesions, a bit like a cancer. It is spread through the respiratory tract, so as you can imagine, would spread very quickly in a battery farm.
❂ Impacted eggs or egg bound- this is where a fully formed egg become lodged inside the hen. This is extremely serious and can be fatal. In a battery farm, I would imagine an egg bound hen would most likely not even be noticed….
❂ Broken and/or brittle bones also known as ‘cage layer fatigue’- Due to the battery hen having been bred specifically for the purposes of laying loads of eggs, this can lead to suffering from osteoporosis (brittle bones) as all of the hens calcium reserves will have been used for laying eggs. I would imagine also, that never have been exposed to sunlight would also cause them to have a vitamin D deficiency, which is also essential for healthy, strong bones. As the bones become brittle, they break, due to getting a foot stuck, poor handling, fighting…. the list goes on….
❂ Prolapse- This is a distressing condition. We sadly lost Chicken 11 due to prolapse. This is where the hens uterus ‘falls out’ of the vagina… sometimes, if caught early enough, or it’s not too bad the hen can be saved, or surgery can also be an option. In a battery farm it would most likely go un-noticed, also as I mentioned above, when a hen sees blood, they attack…. I don’t think I need to say anymore, it’s just gruesome.
❂ Fatty liver syndrome- The hens get no exercise, they eat, they lay…. that’s it. So the liver cannot cope and fails.
❂ Stress- Perhaps the most obvious one of all, the hen my have known no different, but it still must be horribly stressful for her. Having no privacy to lay, being crammed in a cage, fighting for food, being pecked, being kept in a hot, stuffy environment, laying more eggs than her body is naturally supposed too…. Sadly, when hens are finally found a new home, they can die within a few days due to it just all being too much.
❂ Overgrown beak and claws- Having been sat in a cage and not moving, the claws and beak are not worn down naturally, so they maybe overgrown.
It used to be common practise to ‘de-beak- a battery hen. This involves slicing the tip of the top half of the beak off with a red hot blade when the hen is young, it’s mean to stop the hens injuring each other when they peck.
These are just some of the more common health problems that I was able to find out about. Now I shall tell you about the life cycle of a battery hen. This is researched from various places on the web that I found whilst I was finding out about battery hens myself.
Video taken inside a battery hen farm by some Australian activists. This is a simple video, no preachy commentary, you just watch. It’s not nice but then nothing about battery farming is nice.
The life of a battery hen begins when she is hatched, day one. The chicks are passed along a conveyor belt and sexed… the hens are kept and the males are ‘dispatched’. This can either be by gassing, dropping into a mincer or just shoved in a bin liner with the rest to suffocate. Nice.
Before a hen is old enough to lay eggs, she is either reared in a shed or in a special cage. Then at 18 weeks old, they maybe de-beaked and then put into the battery cage.
This is a cage which was retrieved by the United Poultry Concerns from an abandoned battery farm. They have put some model hens in the cage to clearly show just how little space the hens actually have. The current cages are 20 inches by 20 inches….. a hens wing span is about 36 inches, there are about 5-6 hens in one cage…. think about that for a moment.
The law is changing, from January 2012 the current cages (shown above) will be banned and the new ‘enriched’ cages will replace them…. The cage shown here on the left is one of the new style cages…. spot the difference. These cages are 10 inches by 11 inches per hen and have to provide 15cms of perch per hen. So they have a bit more room, but it’s not much of an improvement.
In order to maximise egg production, the sheds containing the cages are artificially lit for 17 hours a day. The floor of the cages are sloped forwards, so that the eggs roll out onto a conveyor belt. The droppings fall through the cage floor onto another conveyor belt. The average battery hen will produce around 338 eggs per year…. that’s a lot of eggs.
An egg normally takes about 24-26 hours to ‘make’ a normal laying hen, will lay about 257 eggs per year. This is almost 100 eggs less per year than a battery hen!! No wonder the poor things look rubbish!
The hens remain in the battery cage until they are about 18-24 months old, when they are then considered spent and are slaughtered. Their meat is very poor quality and is used in pet food, chicken stocks, cheap pies etc….. yum.
I hope that this goes someway to helping you understand what it means to be a battery hen and indeed an ex-battery hen. I’ve never been inside a battery farm and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to. It’s a cruel and barbaric farming method which is not just limited to hens, but I’ll just focus on the hens for the time being.
Here is Mel now, this is what she looks like after just over a year out of the battery farm.
Look at her beautiful red face and perky red comb. She is still missing a few feathers round the top of her legs, but everything else is covered in lovely glossy, brown feathers.
She is cheeky, happy, totally spoiled and a joy to have around.
Here she is scratching my leg. As soon as I sat down, she came over to see what I was up to. The whole time she was cooing at me.
How could anyone say she was happy in the battery farm?
Thanks for reading. I’ve tried to keep it neutral, but I feel very strongly about this subject.