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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Unbelievable Cruelty to Chickens

By Cheryl Long

Tags: cruelty to chickens, industrial poultry, Cheryl Long,

caged layer hens 

Be forewarned — this is pretty gruesome information. 

“29% of all hens have one or more broken bones during time spent in cages, depopulation, and transport for processing,” according to research cited in a paper written by seven individuals associated with Purdue University and Hy-Line International Dallas Center. (The paper's title is “Can Lighting Programs be Manipulated in the Growing Phase to Improve the Skeletal Integrity of Commercial Egg Layers.”) The authors go on to say “In addition to the bone breakage of live birds, economic losses arise due to high fracture incidences during carcass processing. Because of bone splinters in the meat of spent hens, the egg industry has lost the majority of its market to companies manufacturing chicken based soup products. Most soup companies now use broiler meat in place of spent hen meat.”  

Why, you may ask, do industrial chickens suffer such brittle bones that the “spent” hens cannot be used to make soup?  The reason is that the industry has bred the birds to produce eggs at such a fast rate that the birds can’t eat enough calcium to keep up with the egg-laying genetics that have been bred into them. As a result, the hens’ bodies must pull calcium from their bones, resulting in severe osteoporosis after just a few months of high rates of egg laying.  

Modern broilers (chickens bred for meat production) suffer similar cruel treatment. They routinely experience severe health effects because the producers choose to maximize their profits by using birds that have been bred to grow so fast that their muscles grow faster than their hearts, lungs and bones. High rates of heart attacks and broken legs are commonplace.

And then there’s the standard  practice of “debeaking” the chicks so that they cannot do what all chickens instinctively do — peck at things. Confined into tiny cages where they can never even spread their wings, the only thing they can peck at is each other. Without debeaking, they would often peck each other to death. 

The best way to stop this appalling situation is for consumers to refuse to buy industrial chickens and eggs. Instead, we need to be willing to pay higher prices and support local producers who do not put profit ahead of humane animal treatment. 

You can find local suppliers who are not cruel to their chickens at LocalHarvest.

Photo: Fotolia/Mr.Lightning 

Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on .

3/30/2011 5:22:12 PM

Hmmm... Acts 10:13 says "Kill and eat." I think it's totally ethical to eat animals, but I won't even begin to say where to draw the line that separates "pet" from "food". Animal cruelty is not a good thing, of course! But meat has to be affordable too. I don't know the answer to this problem.

t brandt
2/19/2011 10:21:54 AM

Vegans can only follow their lifestyle choice, for the most part, because they have access to the wide range of veggies required for good health thanks to high petroleum useage by the transportation industry. If you have access to free-range poultry products, take advantage of it if you want to. But 310 million Americans can't do it- there's just not enough free range available. All engineering solutions are compromises among the conflicting factors. Take your choice: happy chickens or KFC whenever you want it?

b. keith parker
2/19/2011 8:52:00 AM

I dont understand all this talk about poor mistreated chickens, they are going to be killed and eaten. How mistreated is that? A comment was made about the sacredness of life and insult to the Creator well you should remember that the Creator demanded animal sacrifices so get off that soapbox. In this same issue is an article about "Crunchy Chicken" yet you are concerned about how the chickens are treated before they become crunchy. Reality has gone away folks and we only think about what make US feel better.

edouard ponist
2/18/2011 9:27:52 PM

Mis treatment of animals be it chickens, cattle etc., is an attack on the sacredness of life and an insult to the Creator. Many people give grace before meals yet ignore the provenance of their meat which may have been abused. We have aklready taken steps in buying free range eggs only. We have cut out from our diet poultry, pork and beef for the last year and a half. One can get all the essential amino acids without meat and if more people stop buying corporate foods it will translate in less profits thus perhaps changing their ways.

2/18/2011 9:11:39 PM

Perhaps what we really should be doing is not eating animals at all, including these poor mistreated chickens. And the equally mistreated pigs and cows in this awful industrialized agribusiness. If I had one wish, it would be to stop all this immediately. It can't happen soon enough.