Spent Hens Rescue Mission of 2015

Kathryn Mollica, left, and Nicole Caldwell clip toenails of "spent" hens rescued today from a nearby egg farm.

Kathryn Mollica, left, and Nicole Caldwell clip toenails of "spent" hens rescued today from a nearby egg farm.

Forty hens were rescued today from a nearby egg farm. The girls will be rehabbed over the course of several weeks and then rehomed or offered a cushy retirement on the Better Farm campus.

In the commercial egg business, it doesn't make sense to house chickens that are past their peak production. Here are the facts on that:

  • 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. 

  • Female birds' confined space doesn't allow the ladies to stretch their wings or legs, and they can't fulfill normal behavioral patterns or social needs like scratching in the dirt, chasing bugs, or taking dust baths. Rubbing against 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. 

  • To reduce injuries from excessive pecking—a behavior that occurs when confined hens are bored, stressed, or frustrated—most laying hens' beaks are cut off. 

  • Laying hens' bodies suffer from massive egg production (250 eggs/year on average): 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.

I know, yuck.

Here's what the girls look like today, feeling fresh air on their skin for the very first time:

As soon as we got the hens to the farm, their toenails were clipped and they were introduced to the fresh water bowl. Here is one of last year's rescued hens coming over to check out all the activity:

It generally takes between 24 and 48 hours for the hens to really start scratching in the dirt, chasing bugs and acting like chickens again. For today, they're mostly standing or sitting around, in awe of all the sweet smells, fresh air and open space.

Thirty of the 40 birds will be rehomed to people in the area who will take the hens under their wings in order to give these gentle creatures a loving, safe home in which to retire. Big thanks go out to all our adoptive parents—these ladies are so deserving of a life away from metal cages.

Check back regularly for updates on the birds' progress! And in the meantime, reconsider where you buy your eggs. There are so many vegan alternatives—as well as plenty of backyard birds who are happy to be laying! If you'd like to get involved with these rescue ops by sponsoring a hen at Better Farm, email us at info@betterfarm.org. It costs only $5 a month to provide all the wonderful care one of these hens needs!