Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Egg production

. Updated: 17 December 2018


Living conditions

Many millions of egg-laying hens all over the world are reared in intensive systems. On intensive battery farms, egg-laying hens are kept in wire mesh cages, stacked in tiers in huge windowless sheds, so tiny that they are unable to turn around; typically, four or five birds share one small cage. The space for each bird can be as little as an A4 sheet of paper and they stand uncomfortably on wire mesh which eventually cripples their feet. They are denied their most basic of natural behaviours such as foraging, preening, taking dust baths, stretching their wings and building nests in which to lay eggs; the only activities they are able to undertake are eating and drinking. Most of these birds never breathe fresh air or even see daylight; in fact, they are kept in semi darkness to prevent stress-induced behaviours from overcrowding. The conditions they are kept in are not only cramped but unhygienic; due to the sheer number of birds confined together and the lack of attention that is paid to their welfare, diseases are prevalent.

In 2012 the EU banned typical battery cage systems, only to replace them with “enriched cages”, which merely give the birds an additional postcard’s width per bird. Due to the height of the cages, birds are still not able to flap their wings. Furthermore, ‘enriched’ cages offer the birds a perch to sit on; however, the perches are too low to offer them any real satisfaction or ‘enrichment’.

Barn, perch or aviary systems are alternatives to the traditional battery cages. In these systems, the birds are not caged, they are let loose in a shed and have access to perches, nest boxes and litter which is meant to allow them freedom to express natural behaviours such as dust bathing, foraging and roosting. They may also have natural light. Whilst the birds are not confined in cages, there may be just as many birds crowded together as in battery cage systems and therefore, many of the problems such as distress and disease are still prevalent.

What happens to the hens and chicks?

Chicks are constantly needed to replace the ‘old’ hens that are sent to slaughter; however, around half of the chicks born are male, non-egg-laying animals, of little use to the industry. They are also of no use for meat as they are not bred to put on weight quickly enough to be fattened for meat. As a result, all male chicks are killed, either by being gassed, or by being ground up alive. Egg-laying hens are not bred for their meat and therefore, once their egg production drops, they are slaughtered and primarily used in low-quality products such as pet foods and soups.


You can help stop the cruelty involved in egg production by adopting a plant-based, vegan diet. There are many alternatives available in supermarkets and health food stores to make the transition easy. Egg replacements can be used for baking; tofu scramble is a delicious alternative to scrambled eggs and other alternatives for egg-based products such as mayonnaise are readily available as well.

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