“Layer hens” in factory farm Daisy at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge
Approximately 305 million layer hens produced around 73 billion “table” or “market-type” eggs in the United States in 2014. Ninety-seven percent of the eggs consumed in the United States come from factory farms, where “technological advances” push maximum production while minimizing costs. According to the American Egg Board’s website, “66 egg producing companies” represent “approximately 87 percent of total production.”
Seventeen of those 66 companies house “greater than 5 million hens”. In terms of agribusiness, making the most cost-efficient layer hen requires growing them quickly (through genetic manipulation and drugs), packing them in tightly, measuring how little they can eat, and monitoring how sick they can get without dying. For example, most egg-laying hens are allowed less space to live in (67 square inches) than the size of your laptop computer screen.
The lives of layer hens start in hatcheries where they are born in metal incubators and never meet their mothers. The chicks are roughly handled and sorted by gender on a fast moving conveyor belt. Only the females are able to lay eggs, so the “useless” male chicks are killed by being ground up alive or by being tossed into trash bags where they suffocate. Few people who eat eggs realize they are supporting this immense cruelty.
The female chicks are put in cages with six to eight other hens, and the cages are lined up in rows and stacked in tiers in huge warehouses. Such close quarters would aggravate anyone, and unsurprisingly, aggression is high. To keep the hens from killing each other, their beaks are cut off with hot blades when they are still young. Debeaking causes chronic pain throughout their short lives. The cages they are kept in have sloped floors, which prevent the birds from sitting and causes immense foot and joint pain. It is common for some of the hen’s toenails to grow around the wires of the caging, completely immobilizing them.
Many hens living in such extreme confinement die from shock, reproductive complications due to being forced to produce over 265 eggs a year (many times the number they would naturally lay), or mishaps from being stuck inside the wire caging. While hens in natural settings can live more than ten years, those who live in factory farms are killed after one year when their egg production wanes. At this point their bones are so depleted of calcium from having to produce calcium-rich eggshells that they break and bruise easily. Because of this, meat from layer hens is used in processed foods (such as chicken soup) and animal feed, where the bruising is less noticeable.
While chickens used for egg production in factory farms are perhaps “the most abused of all farm animals,”  smaller egg-producing farms also contribute to major welfare problems that affect chickens. As long as animals are viewed as commodities to be used by humans, their needs and interests will never out-weigh the potential profits to be made by farmers of all kinds.
There are many alternatives to supporting the cruelty behind eggs. We are committed to answering questions, providing individual support, and helping people make shifts in their everyday choices. Contact us with questions about how you can work to eliminate animal products from your diet.
Learn more about reducing your consumption of animal products.
 Safran Foer, J. (2009). Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company. (p. 109)
 Safran Foer, J. (2009).
 Safran Foer, J. (2009), p. 79.
 Bauer, G. (2008). Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food. New York: Simon & Schuster. (pp. 149-150)
 Bauer, G. (2008). (p. 153)
 Bauer, G. (2008). (p. 155)
 Bauer, G. (2008). (p. 153)