Spent Hens Get Spared

With yesterday being Valentine's Day and all, we thought it would be appropriate to use this opportunity to make a very public lovenote to a bunch of spent hens in the North Country and to send out word that we're coming to swoop them away, Prince Charming-style.

There are more than 280 million egg-laying hens in the United States confined to battery cages — small wire cages stacked in tiers and lined up in rows inside warehouses. In accordance with the USDA's recommendation to give each hen four inches of 'feeder space,' hens are commonly packed four to a cage measuring 16 inches wide.

Because egg-laying chicken breeds have been genetically selected exclusively for maximum egg production, they don't grow fast or large enough to be raised profitably for meat. Therefore, male chicks of egg-laying breeds are of no economic value, and they are discarded on the day they hatch.

The female birds' confined space doesn't allow the ladies to stretch their wings or legs, and they cannot fulfill normal behavioral patterns or social needs like scratching in the dirt, chasing bugs, and taking extremely adorable, endearing dust baths:

As you can imagine, constantly rubbing against the wire cages means these birds lose a lot of feathers; and it's not uncommon for the ladies to have lots of bruises and abrasions. In order to reduce injuries resulting from excessive pecking—a behavior that occurs when confined hens are bored, stressed, or frustrated—most (but not all) laying hens have part of their beaks cut off.

Laying more than 250 eggs in one year, a laying hen's body is severely taxed (whose wouldn't be?!). They suffer from "fatty liver syndrome" and "cage layer fatigue"; and, percentage-wise, after about a year most hens in the egg industry are considered "spent" and sent to slaughter. The hens who did nothing but lay eggs usually end up in soups, pot pies, dog food, or similar low-grade chicken meat products.

But the truth is, these hens don't have to be spent! So we've linked up through a liaison with a local egg farm that has thousands of laying hens. And we've been told we're welcome to as many spent hens as we want.
While we certainly can't house them all, we expect to take 20 birds into custody at Better Farm. The hens will be welcome to come and go as they please in the grass, brush, and dirt on the property (living and playing outside for the first time!), laying eggs only if they feel like it. They'll have plenty of room to flap their wings, squawk, devour worms and bugs, and experience all the lovely North Country has to offer.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.