When I was in 6th grade, my biology class had a special guest speaker come to teach us about the lifespan of chickens. He was an employee of Tyson Foods (no, I’m not joking!), which ran a big chicken plant in my hometown. He brought with him that day several of the most adorable little baby chicks I had ever seen. After telling us about how chickens grow and develop throughout their lives (I think he skipped the part where factory workers break their necks…) he gave the class some great news. He could not take the baby chicks back to the factory since they were “contaminated” by the outside world, so he was going to draw names of the kids in class and let the winners take a chick home with them. It must have been my lucky day because out of the hat came my name! I walked out of school that day with a baby chick in girl scout cookie box, and I promised to take care of my new pet forever and ever!
What I learned about chickens from “Alex,” as I named him, was far more revolutionary than anything the Tyson rep. had alluded to in his speech. Alex was a factory farm chicken, genetically engineered to turn into a meat-laden snack within weeks. His cute baby chick days were tragically short. In a month or so, he had gotten so big that we couldn’t keep him inside anymore, hence we had to send him to go live on a farm in the country. I was devastated, and my mom explained to me that natural chickens don’t grow up like that. I remember thinking it was strange, and now almost 20 years later, I am really starting to connect the dots and realize just how unnatural and cruel poultry and egg production really is.
In fact, if Alex had been born at a hatchery that sends chicks to an egg farm, he likely wouldn’t have made it past day 1 of his little life. Since male chicks are useless to the egg industry, farms sort all of the incoming chicks based on their gender, and almost all of the male chicks are killed. Common industry practice is to either stuff the male chicks in plastic bags, causing them to suffocate, or to put the live chicks into a meat grinder so that their carcasses can be sold to animal food companies.
The fate of female chicks is hardly better. Since egg producing hens are kept in tiny cages for their short lives, they tend to become aggressive to their cage-mates and injure each other through pecking. In order to cut down on these injuries, female chicks are de-beaked with a hot blade and sent off to a life of extreme confinement.
During their production years, hens are crammed into tiny cages that are often stacked upon each other such that waste drops from higher cages and soils all of the birds below. Even in free-range farms, hens are stuffed by the thousands into windowless sheds with barely enough room to turn around. Dead birds often scatter the warehouse floors until workers can clear them. In fact, the label “free-range” does not carry with it any environmental standards or rules about how animals are treated– the hens in these farms are often de-beaked as well. So, even in the best circumstances, chickens are deprived of any basic level of humane treatment and subjected to lives of extreme suffering.
The single factor that upset me the most about the egg industry is that all of the hens used for egg laying are sent to be slaughtered for meat or gassed to death when their production has declined. The industry standard is to send a hen to slaughter after about 18 months to 2 years, which is even more appalling when you realize that chickens have a natural lifespan of 10-15 years. So, when I was a vegetarian, even though I had stopped eating meat, I was supporting slaughterhouses and dismal factory farms every time I bought or ate eggs. When I learned this, I realized that it was time to go from vegetarian to vegan and truly take a stand against animal cruelty.
One last fact I want to mention is how chickens are treated in slaughterhouses. For chickens, circumstances are particularly bad because they are not protected by the same federal legislation which dictates the “humane slaughter” laws for pigs, cows, etc. Chickens are not even considered animals under this legislation, hence, they are treated with even more bitter disregard than other animals being killed for meat. Chickens are commonly strung up by their legs and dipped into a pool of electrified water that is meant to kill them instantly. However, many chickens attempt to get right-side-up and free themselves from the restraints, and thus their heads are above the water line and they avoid being dipped in the electrified pool. Unfortunately for the chickens who are still alive at this point, stage 2 of the slaughter process involves boiling the chickens to get rid of their feathers, hence, many chickens are boiled alive each day inside factory farms. Factory workers can tell if the chicken was alive when it hit the scalding tank because of the blood-red color of the skin afterwards. The carcasses of the chickens who were boiled alive are taken out of the meat line and thrown into the trash, making their suffering seem even more meaningless and disgusting.
If chickens were covered under the same humane slaughter protections as cows and other animals, many of the practices commonly used to kill them would be illegal, as they should be. But we say that the best way to support animals rights is to stop eating animal products all-together and go vegan. With all of the good egg and dairy substitutes available, we promise you won’t even miss them!
The video below (from PETA) encapsulates these points and shows in graphic detail just what really happens to chickens used for egg production. It contains disturbing images, but there is no other way to understand just how heinous egg production can be. Next time you go to scramble up an omelette for breakfast, we implore you to ask yourselves….Where do eggs come from?