A farming method which is changing - slowly. What can we do?
There are 30,000,000 chickens in this country - 85% of these are 'living' in Battery Farms.
70% of the above are kept in sheds containing 20,000 birds or more, some up to 100,000.
The minimum legal requirement of space for one bird is just under three quarters the size of an A4 sheet of paper.
Most farms have 4 or 5 birds per cage. The cages being approx. 20 inches x 20 inches (500 x 500)
Cages usually extending from one end of the shed to the other, up to six stacks high.
With artificial 'sunrise and sunset' plus fortified foods, the average annual egg yield of one hen is 338 per year.
Over 2,000,000 chickens die in their cages each year from disease caused by improper control of faeces clearing.
Chicken beaks are cut to stop them causing too much damage to each other.
They spend approximately 72 weeks in this condition before they are slaughtered for pet food, even pies for us.
By then, most are suffering from brittle bones caused by standing on the wire bottoms of their cages.
One could go on for days gathering more facts and instances of cruelty to caged chicken and the more I've looked, the more absolutely revolting the whole thing becomes.
Even if we personally only brought free range eggs to eat for our breakfast, the likelihood is we're eating cakes etc., brought in supermarkets and shops which contain eggs from battery farms. After all, it's supplying food on mass for the cheapest price possible.
It's similar to the fact that most people who complain about
smoking in public places are those who used to smoke themselves and have 'seen the light'. Until 5 years ago, I was quite happy simply picking up the cheapest eggs on the supermarket counter, but when you've got chickens in your back garden, you see their personalities, habits and needs, you change.
This is even more so when you actually go to a battery farm and buy chickens.
I've brought chickens from a battery farm. I went there to be fair, quite naive. The Farmer swung the door open to a large shed. The smell was the first thing to hit you, a strong ammonia with no hint of air. Then the noise which was mainly the sound of fighting chickens.
"How many have you got ?" I asked, expecting to hear about 400. "Oh, only 6,000" he said.
I went to buy 4, but came home with 10.
I went there again last week to buy (save) some. I was delighted to
see he had shut the system down and is now free ranging on a large field.
Other Egg Producing Methods
Hens are kept in a loose flock in sheds with raised perches or platforms. Floors are usually covered in wood chippings. EU law is that there should be no more than 25 hens per square meter (imagine a 3'3" square on the floor and put 25 birds in it !!). 15cm of perch per bird.
Kept in sheds, not usually perches or platforms. Part of the floor is usually solid, the rest wire mesh for droppings. This method allows only 7 birds per square meter.
They are often housed in sheds with perches, or in deep litter sheds but have access to the outdoors during the day. They can also be accomodated in moveable houses. EU law states 1000 hens per hectare of outdoor space and the laned must be 'mainly covered with vegetation.
Obviously, of these options, free range is the best but this does not supply the 'cheap egg for masses' argument and one can have some understanding of farmers who don't want to go for the harder / more work option of free range. If every Farmer did and the Governments put a 'free range only' policy down, eggs would be harder to get and probably a lot more expensive.
Added January 2008. It is so very satisfying that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, with the backing of Channel 4, have both voiced their opinions in their respective TV Shows this week.
Hopefully this will bring about the public awareness which has been sadly lacking for many years.
There is of course another way of reducing sales beside not purchasing 'eggs from caged hens' - that is to keep Chickens in your back garden! Ex-Battery hens after a few weeks of TLC will reward you with 'free eggs' and they're great pets as well.
Read more about re-homing them on the Down the Lane 'Keeping ex-battery hens' page.