Lincolnshire Little Hens
The Life of a Battery Hen compared with the Life of a Pet Hen.
The poor, unforunate Battery Hen has a life entirely different to the happy lives of my pet hens. Another name for a Battery House is a 'Belsen House', which seems more appropriate judging by the way the birds are treated.
The following table documents the typical life of a Battery Hen compared with the life of a Pet Hen.
|She begins her life as a developing embryo in an egg. The broody mother hen will have prepared a warm, safe and comfortable nest for her eggs.
|She begins her life as a developing embryo in an egg.
|The egg is incubated (or brooded) in a nest by a broody hen. A broody hen usually incubates up to 15 eggs at a time. The mother hen sits on the eggs, keeping them warm and turning them to ensure even heat distribution.
|The egg is kept enclosed in an electronically controlled incubator, usually with hundreds of similar eggs. The egg is heated and turned mechanically.
|The egg hatches.
The mother hen helps the chick out of the egg, and keeps it warm. She clucks to it and keeps it in the nest under her wing, protecting it. She makes sure it knows how to drink, scratch at the ground for food and be a proper chicken.
The mother hen protects her chicks and provides them with refuge under her wings for the first two months of life.
|The egg hatches.
If the chick is a male, it will be killed by gassing or by being barbarically put into a mincing machine whilst STILL ALIVE!
The female chick is taken to a new environment with hundreds of other day-old or newly hatched chicks. The chicks are kept under heat lamps for warmth, either in 'training' cages or in deep litter sheds. Their food and water are provided via automated electronically controlled methods. Their light is timer-controlled, and large fans keep the air circulating. An unknown proportion of female chicks undergo 'de-beaking', which means that the bird's beak is partially amputated - many die of shock or their injury after this operation has taken place.
|The chick grows up and becomes a pullet.
She forages in a large garden with other hens during the day, and is shut safely in a shed at night.
Above: a pullet foraging
The hen can run around, feel the sun on her back, the wind in her feathers and the grass under her feet.
She can see the sky, feel the rain on her back, and is free to choose to take shelter or stay out and forage if she pleases.
She has a wide variety of natural food to choose from - that which is provided by her owners, and that which she finds for herself - slugs, spiders, underground grubs and other insects, seeds, berries, young shoots and leaves etc.
|The chick grows up and becomes a pullet. If she has not been in a cage from day one, she will be put in a battery cage made entirely of thin wire mesh when she reaches her eighteenth week of life. The cage measures 50cm by 50cm (20 inches by 20 inches), and she shares this cage with four other birds*. The cages are kept in a large windowless building, and are usually stacked in tiers six high. The hens are fed and watered automatically, and their homogenised food is treated with antibiotics, artificial yolk colouring and medication. Their dung is taken away from the cages via conveyor belts. She will stay in the wire battery cage for the rest of her life.
Above: a caged hen. Picture courtesy of the Animal Liberation Front, BCM 1160, London WC1N 3XX
The hen spends her whole life in the tiny cage with the other four hens*. They are frustrated because they are prevented from obeying their instincts, so they squabble. They peck at each other, pulling out feathers and causing injuries. Some battery hens end up almost entirely bald, and some even die.
|The pullet is now ten months old, and will become a hen as soon as she lays her first egg.
She stays with the other hens in the flock, walking about and foraging by day and roosting on a perch in a sheltered area (eg: a shed) at night, as her instincts tell her.
She is free to choose her own food from forage and that offered to her by her owners.
|The pullet is now ten months old, and will become a hen as soon as she lays her first egg. She has been in the battery cage for a long time now. The farm manager checks the cages every day, but birds in the topmost and lowest cages are extremely difficult to see, and corpses often go unnoticed**.
Above picture courtesy of R.S.P.C.A Photolibrary
|The hen wants to flap and stretch her wings. She runs along as fast as she can, flapping and leaping into the air.
Above: Three pet hens foraging in the garden
|The hen wants to flap and stretch her wings. She has a 32 inch wingspan - 31 centimetres longer than the width of her cage. She is unable to flap because there is not enough room in her cage to even stretch one wing fully. Even if she were caged singly, she still would not be able to flap her wings.
Above: the 32" wingspan of this chicken shown in relation to THREE Battery Cages
|It is summer, and the hen feels too warm, and uncomfortable. Her instincts tell her to scratch out an area of fine, dry soil and dustbathe in it to dissipate heat and cool her body down; so she finds such an area and does so.
Above: A pet hen dustbathing
|It is summer, and the hen feels too warm, and uncomfortable. Her instincts tell her to scratch out an area of fine, dry soil and dustbathe in it to keep cool. She is so desperate to do this that she goes through the motions on the bare wire floor of the cage ('Lying on side, scratching cage floor, rubbing head and neck on floor, opening wings', damaging her feathers.) But she cannot dustbathe, so she simply pants to dissipate heat and takes out her frustration on her four cage-mates by pecking them.
Pecking is a common behavioural problem with Battery Hens, quickly turning into cannibalism. This behavioural problem is caused by overcrowding. Attempts to prevent it are made by 'debeaking' - shortening the hens' beaks with hot blades. Free-range hens naturally peck at each other, too - their social structure is based around the 'Pecking Order' - but free-range hens can escape from bullies easily.....if a Battery Hen is caged with a bullying hen, she has no choice but to submit to the more dominant bird's onslaught. Often, the least dominant hen will be pecked to death by her cagemates
|The hen wants to lay an egg. Her instincts tell her to find a quiet, dark, private place and make a nest for herself, so she does this in nesting areas provided for her in the shed she sleeps in. She lays her egg in her nest peacefully without disturbance.
Above: a hen laying an egg in a nest she has built herself with hay.
|The hen wants to lay an egg.
Her instincts tell her to find a quiet, dark place and make a large, comfortable nest for herself - but the tens of thousands of other birds in the building collectively make too much noise.
She feels compelled to obey her instincts, but she cannot get out of the cage. She holds the egg in until it feels uncomfortable, so she is forced to lay it without a nest, on the barren wire floor of the cage.
The egg gently rolls down the slightly sloping floor of the cage and into a special catching area away from the cage. If any dead birds are in the cage, the egg may touch a corpse, or even be laid against one.
Konrad Lorenz, animal behaviourist/ethologist (1903-1989) stated: 'For the person who knows anything about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cage-mates, to search there in vain for cover. Under these circumstances hens will undoubtedly hold back their eggs for as long as possible. Their instinctive reluctance to lay eggs amidst the crowd of her cagemates is certainly as great as the one of civilised people to defecate in an analogous situation'.
Researchers at the Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research in Edinburgh found that hens would be prepared to walk as far as 1404 metres in order to reach a nestbox to lay in.
|The exercise and outdoor living keeps the hens healthy and strengthens their bones.
|The lack of exercise and restricted movement makes the hens victims of skeletal and muscle weaknesses. Many hens suffer broken limbs because of this. The hens' feet and claws are damaged through constantly having to stand on the thin sloping wire floor. Hens die in their cages due to the conditions they are forced to live in.
|Hens can live for about ten years, and even continue to produce eggs at this age. Pet hens quickly learn to recognise their owners, and will run to greet them enthusiastically, even when food is not on offer.
Above: A pet hen foraging in the sunshine
|The hen is now two years old. Her laying capacity falls by 25% in the second year of laying, and this is not financially viable for the Battery Farm.
Battery Hens are slaughtered at just under two years of age. Their corpses are used for pet food, baby food, soups and stock cubes because they are unfit for any other purpose as there is so little meat on their bones. They become "mechanically recovered meat"
Above: a typical Battery Hen
Picture courtesy of Compassion in World Farming.
|*Battery cages are designed to hold five birds - count the feet in the picture on the left, and notice that there are actually seven birds in a cage designed for five.
Picture courtesy of the Animal Liberation Front, BCM 1160, London WC1N 3XX
** An ex-poultry worker describes his daily tasks and the catching process: 'One of my jobs was removing dead birds. There was never any shortage. Due to poor light the bottom two tiers of cages were in darkness, and it was impossible to see if the birds were still alive. When the carcasses were removed it was often a matter of a skeleton head and a few bones. I once took part in the clearance of a ten thousand bird shed. Other lads were brought in from local farms and the torture commenced. I recall being shouted at for my gentleness. Birds were dragged from the cages by their legs. Four birds were carried in each hand head down, down the shed to the door. The noise was deafening, the smell was putrid. Legs, wings and necks were snapped without concern. As I now look back, the whole system is incredibly cruel. After saying all this, that particular farm was good as far as battery farms go.......I gave up work in the poultry industry after bad dreams at night.' Farm Animal Welfare Network, 'Today's Farm Animals - The Inside Story'
If you are shocked and disgusted to hear the plight of the Battery Hen, you can take the following action to help STOP Battery Farming:
*DON'T buy Battery Eggs. However, this is not as easy as it seems.....Battery Eggs are often labelled with phrases like 'Farm Fresh', 'Country Fresh', and 'Naturally Fresh' . This labelling often misleads consumers - would you want to eat a 'Farm Fresh' egg which may have been laid on the corpse of a dead hen?.
*WRITE to your local supermarkets and M.P. asking them to label Battery Eggs as 'Eggs from Caged Hens'.
*ONLY buy eggs which are clearly labelled as 'Organic', 'Free-Range', or 'From hens which have access to pasture'.
* BUY some hens of your own, if you have a back garden.
Keeping your own hens will eradicate the need to buy Battery Eggs, or any commercially produced eggs. Hens are cheap to buy, especially if you ask your local farm politely or even better, rescue some ex battery hens.
Three or four hens will provide enough eggs per week for an average family. They require less care than most people think, and the essential items they need can often be improvised (for example: use old clean dustbins as feed storage bins; a garden shed as a poultry house; old fruit boxes as nestboxes). A few hens are not noisy, and only tend to cluck loudly immediately after laying an egg.
Keeping a few hens is a very rewarding experience - they make interesting and educational pets for children, as well as providing you with top-quality manure for your garden !.
Hens are easily tamed and actually enjoy being stroked and petted. If kept in a small flock, the hens' personalities have a chance to develop - the antics of free-range hens are a joy to watch and provide many a laugh on an otherwise uneventful day. Try it, and support the welfare of hens.