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.
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 Google+.