Living with Chickens,  Socio-Political

The Battery Hen

Most of us love to eat eggs, but do we think much about the life of the battery hen? In years past I knew how hens were treated when caged but I did not think much about it. Chickens are called battery hens due to the way they are caged in rows and columns. Their world is about the size of an A4 piece of paper. It does not sound like much of a life and it isn’t. My “egg epiphany” came during the period I was contemplating having backyard chickens. Once you know about the characteristics of chickens and their behavioural needs could you continue to buy caged eggs? It is my view that caged eggs should be shelved (pun intended)!

In thinking about the battery hen let’s start with a few facts. There are approximately 4.93 billion egg laying hens in the world today. In Australia there are around 16.7 million layer hens. About 12 million of these layer hens are caged. Overall in Australia 70% are caged; 30% are cage free including barn laid and free range (source RSPCA). Australians on average (as of 2012) eat 215 eggs per person, per year. So you can see the demand for egg production is high.

Commercial egg production was just getting underway in North Queensland in 1949 (Cairns Post, 3 December). BJ found the article titled “Poultry Notes”. It discussed the ambition of commercial poultry farming and battery hens. Due to the cost of laying cages and a shed to house the chickens the author concluded that it was doubtful caged hens would be a profitable venture in the North. How things have changed over the past 65 years!

It seems we have reached the tipping point and the debate about the inhumane treatment of hens is underway. To my knowledge the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in Australia is the only State or Territory that has banned caged eggs. New South Wales is moving in that direction and so is Tasmania.

Woolworths made a decision not to sell caged eggs or use these in their own brand products by December 2018. The Australian Egg Corporation Limited (ACEL) response to Woolworths on 4 October 2013 said “Based on scientific research, the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd believes all egg production systems have their own advantages and disadvantages in relation to hen welfare. Recent scientific research undertaken by the University of Sydney demonstrated that hen stress levels are similar across cage, barn and free range environments, with the key determinants on hen welfare being hen husbandry not the system used.” Many would disagree with this statement.

Caged hens are unable to express their natural behaviours such as walking, stretching, flying, perching, nesting and dust bathing. Caged hens have physical and mental problems. Battery hens are confined in a small space, spend all their time on the floor and are not familiar with sitting on a perch at night or finding their food and water source. They become frustrated by their confinement and can peck or bully other hens. To protect the hens factory farmers de-beak or beak trim the hens, sometimes when they are young chicks. De-beaking is banned in the ACT. It can cause immense pain for the hen. There are no laws in Australia that require pain relief during such a procedure.

As battery hens are rescued and rehabilitated they learn quickly and readily adapt to their new environment. If they have lost their feathers they require warmth in the colder weather. Knitting the hens woollen jumpers is just the thing to keep them cosy while their feathers regrow. My friend Rita, from our Busy Needles Knitting Group, is knitting jumpers for ex-battery hens in the UK. Soon she will visit Wales taking with her a supply of knitted jumpers. There are a few patterns online that you can print. The one that seems to be most popular is Nanny North’s version (you can find it here).

Princess Poppie modelling the "green" knitted jumper
Princess Poppie modelling the “green” knitted jumper

When Rita visited our Princess Chickens the other day we got Princess Poppie to model a green jumper. I am sure once this post is published every ex-battery hen will want a green one! Thanks Poppie for being our model. When looking at the photo I noticed that Poppie had a beak injury. It was fortunate she was chosen for the modelling job otherwise I may not have seen this. Fortunately, it has not stopped her eating, drinking or foraging. But now that I know I will keep a close eye on her welfare and health until it grows back.

If you are an animal lover you will not want to look at the this link but then maybe you should so you can tell others about the battery hen and animal cruelty.

Countries can systematically address the cruelty to caged hens however given the high demand for eggs this is a challenging task. Germany banned battery cages in 2012. This has bought about positive changes but now Germany is the world’s largest importer of eggs. It is evident that along with banning caged eggs alternative methods of egg production that are more humane need to be phased in.

As strange as it sounds you can make a pledge to refuse cage eggs see the Animals Australia site here. You don’t have to make a pledge but by refusing to buy caged eggs you can be part of the revolution. You can also grow your own, i.e. have a few backyard chickens. You can also adopt a battery hen. If you live near Brisbane here is information about the Battery Hen Adoption Project.

The Princesses eating passion fruit leaves as I try to clean their rest area tray
The Princesses eating passion fruit leaves as I try to clean their rest area tray

From the photo above you can see that the Princess Chickens love their life in Cluckingham Palace. Yesterday as I was cleaning the rest area tray they all just popped up onto the tray to get closer to the passion fruit leaves. They like being involved in everything I do and don’t seem to have a care in the world – just the way it should be.

One more thing! For all those who can knit we can also get out our knitting needles, just like Rita, and knit a few jumpers and donate these to the cause. Knitting a jumper is a very worthwhile part of a bigger picture to address the woes of battery hens. The hens can then be re-homed and enjoy the “good life” of a free range chicken, just like the Princesses!

One Comment

  • Trish Gardner

    Thanks Kathryn it breaks my heart to see those caged girls, I might look at getting two down the track need to look into it a little more, I have a smaller coop that would be nice for 2 girls. Always love your blog

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