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A female laying hen in a barn

Laying Hens

With over 300 eggs per year: the high-performance chickens in the egg industry

6.12.2021

Female chickens with a particularly high laying performance are called laying hens and are used in the egg industry. The laying performance of these animals has increased over the years through intensive breeding and highly concentrated feed. With around 300 eggs per year, a hen lays about 120 eggs more than than it would have 50 years ago. Unwanted side effects in overbred laying hens are the tendency for feather pecking and cannibalism, reinforced by the extreme tightness of cages, that they're forced to live in.

Chickens are often driven long distances to the slaughterhouse. As a result of these animal transports, many chickens are injured or die in agony - in crates that are far too narrow, with no food or water. British studies show that at least one fresh bone fracture has been found in around 30 percent of the chickens arriving alive at the slaughterhouse. Severed heads are also observed again and again. From a purely economic point of view, injured or dead animals are insignificant given a market value of these "soup chickens" of around seven cents.

There are three groups of farm chickens in total. On the one hand, there are the highly specialised chicken breeds: broiler chickens that are used for meat production and laying hens that are used in the egg industry. On the other hand, there is the so-called dual-purpose chicken, which is suitable for both. FOUR PAWS is committed to sustainable chicken breeding with a focus on dual-purpose chickens, as the current practice of killing day-old male chicks of laying breeds would no longer be necessary.

What you should know

  • Chicks: Hatched in huge incubators without any contact with the mother.
  • Life expectancy is falling: a chicken can live up to 15 years. In intensive animal husbandry, they hardly get older than 20 months, as their performance decreases afterwards.
  • Egg producers: The USA and China are the largest producers of eggs in the world.
  • Hidden eggs: Every second egg is processed. Most of them come from cages. This is incomprehensible to the consumer. Learn more about hidden cage eggs in processed food here.
  • Interventions on chickens: Due to lack of space and boredom and other influencing factors, chickens are prone to feather pecking or cannibalism. In intensive animal husbandry, their beaks are therefore shortened without anaesthesia, along with other painful mutilations.
  • The majority of chickens worldwide live in laying cages or in intensive barn housing (floor housing). Each chicken has space of an A4 sheet of paper. Learn more here.
  • Day-old chicks: Since the male chicks are of no use to the egg industry, they are sorted out and shredded alive. This is cruel and unnecessary. Learn more about it here.

FOUR PAWS Calls for...

...the end of cruel practices: 

They are inducing fear, pain, and distress, thus diminishing the immune system, altering brain function and the natural behaviour of animals.

  • Ban on the painful mutilation procedures:
    • A general ban on beak trimming. Beak trimming is a mutilation which adapts the animal to the keeping conditions instead of adapting the keeping conditions to the animals. No beak trimming of any kind should be allowed.
    • A general ban on mutilations such as toe clipping, dubbing, or pinioning. Housing conditions should be adapted to the animal, providing them with more space and prevent injuries.
    • Castration of young male roosters for capons is a cruel practice, done without anaesthesia and the production of capons should be banned completely in all countries, otherwise it crates loopholes where farmers can import castrated animals from countries where it is allowed.
  • The end to the unnecessary and cruel killings of male chicks (learn more about it here)
  • Phasing out laying hens in cages (all cage systems) - throughout the EU.
  • Retailers to refrain from selling caged eggs and products containing caged eggs.
  • General obligation to label egg-containing products according to the way the laying hens are kept.
  • Food manufacturers to refrain from using cage eggs in their products.

…fulfilment of basic needs:

if neglected it leads to poor welfare states and therefore to suffering, acute pain, distress, fear and long-term negative welfare states. 

Basic needs of chickens are:

  • Chickens are very active animals, therefore they require a lot more space than the cage can offer them, as well as a more structured stable. Stables should have quiet and separated places, raised areas, dustbathing facilities and give access to sun light via roofed outdoor run. Areas for foraging, substrate to scratch and peck at, enrichment material e.g. straw are also essential for the animals.
  • Raised perches should be easily accessible for roosting and sleeping and are safe to use for the chicken e.g. have non-slippery material and do not injure breast bones.
  • Adequate lightning conditions – UV light is essential for the animals, as well as a good air quality with low ammonia concentrations.
  • A diet, appropriate for chicken (varied – grass, leaves, seeds, fruit), is not only essential for maintaining their physical health, but also gives them the possibility to express their natural behaviour as foraging and feeding are both a major item in their daily activity that has a strong social facilitation.
  • Nest should be separated but easily accessible, floor with mouldable material, nests with litter in which the chicken can sit are mandatory.
  • Shelter should give protection from extreme weather conditions and have good air quality, as well as appropriate temperature, with readily available water and food.
  • Animals should be kept in good health and receive veterinary care if needed.

What to do as a witness of farm animal suffering

What you can do for laying hens

Your daily buying decisions make a difference!

  • Reduce, refine and replace animal products in your diet. Find out more about the 3R's here.
  • If you do continue to consume and buy eggs, opt for organic or free-range eggs.
  • Always check the stamp on the egg – do not be fooled by terms such as “small group housing”, “farmer eggs” or “country eggs”.
  • Pay attention to the ingredients in processed products, and opt to buy egg-free or organic products.
  • Ask the manufacturers of processed products with eggs exactly what type of husbandry those eggs came from.
  • Ask in restaurants where the eggs in the dishes come from.
Happy chickens

Chickens have highly developed social and communicative behaviour

Find out more about these birds

see here

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