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Though most of us would like to imagine that the eggs sold at our neighborhood supermarket come from idyllic farms with plush pastures full of happy hens, this is sadly just not the case. Over 90 percent of America’s egg-laying hens are actually raised on massive factory farms, and are kept in what are known as “battery” cages.

The Life of a Battery Hen

An estimated 300 million battery cage hens, or “the most abused animals,” as the ASPCA describes, spend nearly their entire lives in small wire enclosures that permit a living space of about 67 square inches per bird, smaller than a single sheet of paper. This lack of space causes battery cage hens to suffer immensely, both physically and psychologically, being unable to spread their wings, or engage in any other natural behaviors like pecking, rousting, or simply walking around in the fresh air and sunlight.

Instead, battery cage hens are crammed together, stacked on top of each other and forced to live in filth. This results in stress-induced behaviors like feather plucking, fighting and even cannibalism. To help thwart these destructive behaviors, hens are often de-beaked, without anesthesia, causing many to be unable to eat or drink. Those that become injured or ill do not receive vet care, as birds do not fall under federal animal protection laws.

Battery cage hens will spend their lives continuously laying eggs. Food and light may be manipulated in order to disrupt normal molting patterns, causing the birds to produce more eggs than they would naturally.

Finally after one to two years, battery cage hens are then slaughtered due to lagging egg production.

Breaking Free From the Cage

Hens that are permitted to live naturally, on the other hand, can do so for up to twelve years. In their natural environment, chickens are known to be social, inquisitive, and intelligent creatures. They enjoy many unique activities like preening, bathing, perching, nesting, and laying eggs on a natural cycle. Groups of chickens have complex social or “pecking” orders made up of different personalities. Chickens are also keen communicators, with new studies suggesting that different chicken vocalizations mean different things, in particular regarding how happy and comfortable they are.

As PETA is always quick to remind us, chickens, not unlike our beloved dogs and cats, are all individuals, with special characteristics, needs, and the desire to live.

What You Can Do to Help Chickens

If you would like to learn how to stop contributing to the suffering of battery cage hens, consider opting for animal-free, egg alternatives. Whether you want to scramble or fry, bind or thicken, there are a variety of easy vegan swaps available. See how to replace eggs in all your favorite dishes here.

The plight of factory-farmed, battery cage hens is not something that can be ignored. Thankfully, it is something that can be changed by simply opting out of participating. As consumers we vote with our dollar, so only when the demand for factory farmed eggs and other meat products stops, so too will the supply of suffering.

Image source: Flickr