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While many people will argue that raising your own hens is a much better alternative to factory farms, when we look more closely at the reality of backyard eggs there are still many worrying issues that are often overlooked.

Where Do The Hens Come From and What Happens to The Males?

One of the main problems when it comes to backyard hens is where do the hens come from in the first place? Almost all hens who are bred to lay eggs start their lives in hatcheries where there are no laws in place to regulate how they are treated. Seen as mere production units, all male chicks are killed immediately after hatching by being ground up alive or tossed in giant trash bins, as they are considered useless because they cannot lay eggs. Female chicks are boxed and shipped through the postal service without food and water, often arriving at their destination dead, after being crushed alive. Others are shipped off to farm stores where they spend their days in tiny cages until someone buys them.

Why Raising Your Own Hens Doesn’t Make Happy EggsFlickr

Hens Require an Incredible Amount of Support and Protection

Bred into a state of constant dependence, unfortunately farmed animals like hens now rely on our intervention to keep them alive. Hens are extremely vulnerable to predators such as foxes, snakes, birds of prey, and even cats, and they present a constant danger to backyard hens. Providing them with adequate space, where their safety is guaranteed is incredibly expensive as you will need predator proof fencing, housing and in many cases aerial cover.

Protecting them from outside dangers is not the only thing hens need protection from. Our domestication of hens has seen them genetically modified to the point where they produce an unnatural amount of eggs, greatly compromising their personal health. Naturally, hens only lay two clutches of eggs (groups of eggs produced and incubated) a year for the purpose of rearing their young, but hens bred for the egg industry lay one egg almost every day.

Laying eggs depletes the hens of calcium and other vital nutrients, causing osteoporosis and all sorts of other painful conditions. It also puts them at great risk of egg binding where the hen is unable to lay because the egg has become stuck inside her oviduct or clocoa. They are also prone to  peritonitis where the egg breaks prior to being laid causing an infection which eventually leads to her internal organs becoming squashed. Finding a vet to treat such conditions and take care of the hen in the same way as companion animals may be difficult or impossible to find, and then the cost of veterinary care for these kind of issues is considerably high and could be ongoing for the remainder of the hens life

Why Raising Your Own Hens Doesn’t Make Happy EggsCody and Maureen/Flickr

At Some Point Hens Will Stop Laying Eggs

Like all females, hens eventually lose the ability to be reproductively active and as a result will stop producing eggs. This decline usually occurs around two years of age, and as hens can live for anywhere up to 10 years, not many people are willing to continue investing the large amount of time, money and effort required to care for the hen when this happens.

Eggs Aren’t Even Healthy Anyway

Despite what the food industry will have us believe, eggs are not an ideal food for human health. Humans have absolutely no nutritional need to consume eggs, and in fact, eggs are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and have been linked to diabetes, cancer and many other chronic illnesses. With so many plant-based egg alternatives that serve exactly the same purpose, eggs are a completely unnecessary addition to the diet.

If eating eggs isn’t necessary, and it contributes to an unthinkable amount of pain and suffering for the hens, then why do it?

Raising your own hens does nothing to truly take a stand against factory farming, as animal commodification and consumption is what is at the core of the industry and the only real way to say no to this injustice is to reject the use of animals all together.

Image source: Peter Cooper/Flickr

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0 comments on “Why Raising Your Own Hens Doesn’t Make Happy Eggs”

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Joanne Thompson
2 Years Ago

We have 13 hens and a rooster. The rooster and 3 of the hens were rescued from kapparos, a religious slaughter of chickens, several years ago. The other hens were former battery hens. We love all of our chickens a they will have a wonderful life as long as they live. Chickens are not stupid and are wonderful pets. People justify the massive cruelty inflicted upon chickens by deeming them "stupid" and worthless. They are not, and shame on those who hurt them.

3 Years Ago

I agree with BooBoo Kitty. Keep the hens for a couple of years, then in the soup pot and get new ones. I can\'t afford to keep all the hens I get until they die; that\'s just stupid. I keep my birds in movable pens and let the hens free range during the day. The meat birds are only around for about 8 weeks and then into the freezer with them. As for the cockerels of the egg laying birds, they never will get big enough to be commercially sellable so nobody wants them. What would you have them do with them? People need to be able to separate livestock from pets. That is the biggest problem I see with most of the backyard chicken ordinances; they treat the chickens as pets. As a small farmer, if someone gets into this situation I will butcher their birds for free since as most ordinances are written, they can not do it themselves. Besides, most people couldn\'t do it or wouldn\'t know how to do it because people are so far removed from our farming roots. People need to realize that their food comes from farms, not supermarkets. The one I always have to explain about chickens is that hens only have ONE hole; EVERYTHING comes out of that hole, think about that!

BooBoo Kitty
3 Years Ago

Sorry can\'t stop laughing. Really people? I\'ve raised chickens and try as I might I never ever fell in love with a single one! They pooped all over my barn and tack if I let them "free range", they only came to me if I had food. When a layer gets old I never ever thought of keeping it until it died.......straight to the stew pot! Chickens are not people! Plenty of Roosters went into the stew pot as well when they became aggressive and attached me, my kids, dogs whatever. If we were talking about pigs well that is another story, they are actually very smart and you can teach them tricks etc. But sorry chickens are just stupid.

Wutende Frau
3 Years Ago

Rarely have I read such a scare mongering article as this one. While I cannot intelligently refute the actions of the hatcheries, I certainly can advocate for the home-bred chickens. Here in TX, we have a 6 ft fence, and have had 4 laying hens successfully for years. The benefits are amazing! Of course, there is the joy of caring for the birds and hunting their eggs. The benefit that we did not expect was the sheer amount of bugs these chickens ate, along with their daily corn/laying mash. I\'m telling you, we did not have ANY fire ant mounds, and the cockroach population was NIL!

3 Years Ago

This article is good to open people\'s eyes to being careful about where you buy your hens/chickens from BUT backyard hens and the eggs from them are not all bad, nor are they always cruel.

I have five chickens: three roosters and two hens. They weren\'t sexed before I got them, so I had no way of telling what they\'d be. They are from a family friend, who breeds chickens. His chickens live in very humane conditions, which I can attest to. In fact, you don\'t have to patronize hatcheries to obtain chicks - rescue is always an option, and if you know what breed you want it\'s very easy to find breed clubs and find a breeder who is ethical. Farmer\'s markets are another choice to find someone who may have extra chicks to purchase.

Living on a farm, predators are all too common - but it wasn\'t hard to set them up in a way that allows freedom and provides protection. Some tiny backyard coops are far too small for chickens to remain in, but there\'s no reason chickens can\'t free roam during the day and roost in the safe coop at night (as mine do). I\'ve also used dog kennels - you can pick the size based on how many panels to add - as they keep the predators out and provide plenty of roam space.

As for egg-laying - there are ways to give chickens extra calcium so that what they lose, they can get back. And while they won\'t live forever, and I do anticipate buying more hens in the future to compensate, I will always keep my current hens until the end and went into this prepared to do so.

Bottom line: I like eggs. I eat them, but mainly I bake with them. I am increasingly aware of animal issues, and if I can find a way to source something ethically, I will do so. A blanket statement that says :all eggs are unethical isn\'t useful, and it\'s just not true.

25 Jan 2015

I agree, see below, thanks.

25 Jan 2015

"Eating the eggs of backyard chickens also reinforces their egg industry role as “layers” or egg-laying machines, as if to suggest that this is their primary purpose in life, which is incorrect. The fact is that natural egg laying for chickens is no different than it is for many other birds. What’s changed is that modern breeding has forced chickens to produce an obscene amount of infertile eggs. Beyond egg laying, chickens lead rich and complex social lives, have many interests and are keenly self-aware. They have long-term memory and clearly demonstrate that they anticipate future events. They form deep bonds with other flock mates and other species, like dogs and humans. And yet even if they didn’t possess all of these advanced cognitive abilities, they are sentient beings who feel pain and pleasure much like we do. And sentience, not intelligence, is the basis for how we should treat others.

By eating eggs, we imply that the worth of chickens amounts to what they can produce for us as a food source, rather than focusing attention where it should be: on chickens’ intrinsic worth as individuals. “Just as we don’t see human beings or human secretions as a food source, similarly we shouldn’t see any sentient being or their secretions that way either,” writes Horn."

- See more at: http://freefromharm.org/farm-animal-welfare/backyard-chickens-expanding-understanding-harm/#sthash.Ak36wvbH.dpuf

27 Jan 2015

markgil, I disagree with your statement that "by eating eggs, we imply that the worth of chickens amounts to what they can produce for us as a food source." In the vast majority of cases, that may be true. But not in all cases. My girls came from a beautiful animal rescue farm. They will spend their lives being well cared for and that won\'t change when they stop laying. They\'re companions and I adore them all.. I would never have hens unless they came from a rescue situation. I was a vegan for 12 years (vegetarian for 19 before then) when I adopted the hens. During the few months they are laying, my family and friends consume the eggs. When they\'re not laying, there we do not purchase eggs from elsewhere. I became a vegetarian, and then a vegan, because I believe that causing harm to any living creature is wrong. Having hens only reinforces that belief.

29 Jan 2015

Well, my hens are almost 8 years old. I haven\'t lost any to predators. And I\'ll protect them til they die of old age or disease.

3 Years Ago

Ok, I understand. But let\'s say the person who buys the hens takes incredible care of them for their entire life, is it not good that at least this group found a good home?

3 Years Ago

Interesting article, and fair points on the effort and care required to keep hens. But the information about eggs being "bad" for you is simply untrue and misleading. Many, many medical and scientific studies have shown that there is no link between eggs and heart disease, high cholesterol etc. The following article sheds some light on this (including references to journals and papers):

25 Jan 2015

the facts speak otherwise:

"Egg industry claims about egg safety found to be patently false, misleading, and deceptive by the U.S. Court of Appeals."


3 Years Ago

I agree that getting chicks from a hatchery to raise for eggs is very wrong. However, my 4 girls came from my favorite animal rescue farm, born to a rescued hen at the farm. (she managed to hide her eggs from the volunteers and had a hatch a bunch of babies). In spite of the fact that I had fostered, and then adopted a dog from the farm in the past, they did a second home inspection to make sure I had the proper facilities for the hens. They are not terribly, they are wonderful backyard companions, they well protected with their own fenced (top and sides) yard to roam in during the day and large coop to sleep in at night. If the girls are laying eggs, my family will consume those eggs. If they\'re not, I won\'t eat eggs from any other source. When they get older (they\'re 3 now and very healthy) and stop laying, they will continue to be well cared for and loved as long as they live. Although I agree that most backyard chicken coops are not best for the chickens, there are some situations where the eggs truly are cruelty free.

23 Jan 2015

Sorry for the typos there - I meant to say "They are not terribly EXPENSIVE..." and "they ARE well protected." I hit submit before re-reading.

Francisbro Ecuavegan!
23 Jan 2015

I loved your story! your avian friends were lucky to find you!

26 Jan 2015

Thank you, Francisbro!

Anni Cariad
3 Years Ago

Right, I\'d better go out and strangle my two five year old happy garden hens then, had I? if you keep rescue hens and look after them properly, they can have a lovely life. My two raom around the garden, put themselves to bed at night and in the three years I have had them, have never once been eaten by cats, dogs, foxes or birds, although I live in a very rural area. if they have ground cover, they cannot be seen by birds of prey and my dogs keep any foxes and cats away. T
hey don\'t lay much nowadays, and, as a vegan, I wouldn\'t eat the eggs anyway, but, the alternative to me having them from the battery farm was for them to be killed. So much of what you say is not true.

Jeanne Kaiser
23 Jan 2015

Anni, Since you are vegan and don\'t eat the eggs that of course belong to the hens, what you actually have is a micro-sanctuary. Check out another micro-sanctuary called Triangle Chance For All. They would, and I do, applaud you!

23 Jan 2015

Thank you...I stopped counting factual errors, exaggerations, and intentional deceptions in this article when I got to 20

3 Years Ago

Good points well covered. Plus there is this distressing business to consider: http://news.yahoo.com/idaho-confirms-avian-flu-cases-washington-imposes-quarantine-220131709.html. If anyone is fully aware of what\'s involved and willing to commit - as we should be when considering adopting any animal companion - and wants to give chickens a forever home as part of their family, there are plenty in need of rescue. "Farmed animal" sanctuaries like Peaceful Prairie and SASHA Farm leave the eggs for the chickens to consume.


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