Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Turkeys have it bad, no doubt about it. But at least we don’t eat their eggs. If we did, they’d be living in battery cages like the hens that lay our table eggs. I visited an egg factory for a major Southeastern grocery chain last spring while working on our book Veggie Revolution. It had more than a million hens living in battery cages, spread out over about 10 warehouse-sized buildings. All the hens had bare red patches on their chests and butts from friction against the wire cages, and their feathers were stripped of fluff. Their beaks were all "trimmed."

In the first building, the hens were deathly quiet - our guide said they were in a "forced molt" to make them lay eggs faster. A forced molt is induced by depriving them of food until they've lost 30% of their body weight. First their feathers fall out. Then when food is returned, their egg production picks up.

United Egg Producers guidelines to forced molts and beak trims

In the next building, the hens weren’t as limp and silent. But they still weren’t exactly sprightly. Our guide said that after a couple of years in the battery cages, the hens are so depleted, "we can't give them away." No wonder, the air was thick with fecal and feather particles, like it was snowing. The cages were arranged in vertical tiers so the crap from each cage rained down on those below. Many of the hens had gray splats on them. Under each row of cages was a deep trench filled with an 8-ft-deep pile of feces, like a long gray mountain range. The pile is removed only when the hens are replaced, every two years. That explains the stench. For more about this charming tour, see Veggie Revolution.

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