It is a shocking fact that it is still legal to keep farmed animals in cages throughout their lives, and among the most commonly caged are chickens who are farmed for their eggs. As we shall see, it doesn’t have to be this way.
What Are Battery Cages?
They are small barren cages, in which egg-laying hens are forced to live. They are commonly used by the egg industry all around the world, even though it causes severe suffering to the birds.
Why Are They Called Battery Cages?
Inside vast warehouses, these cages are stacked one on top of the other. This means the waste from the birds above falls into the cages of those below. It also means there is no way that the birds can be afforded individual care. It is the way these cages are stacked that gave them their name: someone thought they looked like cells in a battery.
What Does a Battery Cage Do?
Battery cages keep hens confined. If they cannot roam, they do not expend any energy which allows the industry to feed them the bare minimum, and increase their profits. This takes a toll on their physical strength, and their muscles and bones become weakened. While the birds experience all the cons of this system, the industry experiences the pros: with all the birds in one place, farmers can save money on labor as no one needs to go looking for eggs anymore. They simply roll away from the cages automatically and are conveyed to a collection point.
How Big Is a Battery Cage?
That depends but they are no bigger than they need to be. The smaller the cages are, the more can be crammed into each warehouse. Often, the height is around 40cm, so just a little taller than the birds. The size will depend on how many birds are being crammed inside, but typically each gets less space than a typical sheet of paper.
How Many Hens Are Kept in Battery Cages?
There is no hard-and-fast rule but commonly between four and 10 birds are cammed in each cage..
Why Are Battery Cages Bad?
There are many reasons why battery cages are so bad.
No Natural Behaviors
Birds should be free. They should be able to roam and roost, explore their environment, dig in the earth, dust bathe, stretch their wings out in the sun, choose a mate, build a nest and raise their young. The birds we know as ‘chickens’ have been purpose-bred for profit and may not be able to fly very far but they still want to try. It’s how they evade predators and it makes them feel safe. Inside a cage, every natural instinct is thwarted. No animal should be forced to live in a cage.
Osteoporosis and Broken Bones
Naturally, chickens would lay around 20 eggs a year. Today, through genetic manipulation, artificial lighting, and other means, the birds lay around 300. That’s how the industry maximizes its profits but it comes at a hefty price for the birds. All those eggs need shells, and a key component of shell is calcium. To create 300 shells a year takes a lot of calcium, and much of it is leached from the birds’ bones, which weakens them. Brittle and broken bones are all too common.
It’s not just their legs that can be painful, it’s their feet, too. These birds are supposed to be outside on the soft earth, and able to rest in a comfortable place. Instead, they are forced to stand on wire mesh all day every day, which causes damage and sores to their feet. There is no relief from the pain. There is nowhere they can go and no one will help them.
This is an industry term that hides the utter horror of what it really is: deliberate and cynical starvation. It was discovered that if birds are starved for up to two weeks, they stop laying eggs temporarily but will lay more and bigger eggs when they start laying again. It’s a despicable act of cruelty. The birds are desperate with hunger, their bodies start to shut down, and their feathers fall out. It is incomprehensible what some people will do for profit. Deliberate starvation is banned in the UK, the EU, and India, but remains legal in the US and elsewhere.
Every day of their lives is traumatic. Every single day, the birds are frustrated and stressed. It’s little wonder that they take their frustrations out on one another and can cause injuries. An injured bird may not be so profitable and so the farmers try to prevent this harm. No, they don’t improve the birds’ lives so they no longer feel frustrated; instead, they cut off the ends of the birds’ beaks to limit the damage they can do. This can cause both acute and long term pain, and it can make eating both painful and difficult for the rest of their lives.
Damage to the Environment
The suffering of egg-laying hens is so severe that this should be reason alone for ending the industrial production of eggs. But this industry also causes damage to the environment. Compared with tofu, eggs produce 50 per cent more climate-altering gasses require two-and-a-half times the amount of land, and pollute waters more than three times as much.
How Long Do Battery Hens Live?
They could live many years if they were let out of those cages, but we will never know how long they could live inside the cages because they are not allowed to live. Because of the appalling conditions, the number of eggs each bird produces starts to decline when she is around two years of age. At this point, it is cheaper to kill them and replace them with younger birds. And so, these poor creatures are packed into crates and sent to the slaughterhouse, their lives only worth something if someone is making money from them. A new batch of victims will take their place in the cages.
Which Countries Have Banned Battery Cages?
The European Union, New Zealand, Mexico, Israel, Canada, Bhutan, and the UK are among the countries that have banned battery cages. Sadly, in most, including the UK, farmers simply replaced battery cages with larger cages.
Are Battery Cages Legal in the US?
They are. There is no ban at the federal level, although some states ban the production of eggs from battery caged birds. Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, and Nevada have also banned the sale of eggs from battery caged birds in other states or countries.
Other Examples of Caged Animals
It is common for pigs to be kept in gestation or farrowing “crates”, which are actually cages, during their pregnancy and throughout the birth of their piglets. It is shockingly cruel and a denial of their most fundamental needs.
In many parts of the world, cows are tethered in stalls throughout their lives. These animals should be roaming freely, and grazing as they go. The dairy industry, even in the UK, removes the calves from their mothers, and isolates them alone in “hutches”, which are little different to cages.
Rabbits bred for their flesh or fur, or so they can have experiments conducted on them in laboratories, are typically reared in cages. Rabbits need to be able to run, jump, climb, and dig burrows. They are social animals who need to graze. Life in a cage, or as a domestic “pet” rabbit alone in a hutch, is a miserable existence for them.
These wild animals are farmed for their skins and fur. Alone in tiny cages, they become frantic and are desperate to escape, often causing severe injury to themselves. There is no excuse for causing such suffering, least of all for fur.
- Pheasants and Partridges
In the UK, pheasants and partridges are factory farmed in cages so they can be released and then shot for fun. It is little different to canned hunting. It is time such cruelty ended.
What’s the Difference Between Battery Cages and Enriched Cages?
So-called “enriched” cages are a little bigger than battery cages but more hens are crammed inside each. Typically, these cages have a plastic scratch pad and a piece of wood that the birds can stand on. As hens feel safer if they can lay their eggs in private, these cages also have a small plastic curtain they can go behind, one at a time. That’s it. That is all the industry will do for them, and they lobbied hard against even this small improvement.
Around half of the eggs produced in the UK and Australia come from birds who spent their lives in a cage. In the US, the figure is closer to three quarters. There is no doubt at all that birds suffer extreme deprivation inside cages, and many experience severe physical, psychological, and emotional pain, too. It’s all so unnecessary. We do not need to eat eggs at all. We can make omelets, scrambled “eggs” and even meringues from plant-based products, and there are many ways to bake delicious cakes, pancakes, cookies, and pastries without using eggs. Learning these new and simple cooking methods is surely a small price to pay for ending the suffering of hens.