The Litchfield County Times |
May 3, 2002
A Cage is No Place for a Hen
By Karen Davis
I would like to respond to Kathryn Boughton's article about Odge's
egg farm, "In Sharon, Sunny Side Down" (March 29). Last evening, as
on many evenings over the years, I was outside filling water bowls
and watching our chickens enjoy themselves in their big fenced yard.
From now until September they stay out until around nine. Even then,
a few hens will dart off their roosts for a final run around before
settling in for the night. It is thereafter so quiet you can hardly
believe the activity that's been going on in that yard since
One reason I'm out there is to teach about fifty white leghorn hens
to go into the chicken house at dusk, instead of roosting in the
trees as they wish. I do this to protect them from the owls and
raccoons that occupy the yard after dark. These hens, along with
twenty others, arrived at our Virginia sanctuary a few weeks ago--a
handful of hens rescued from an egg farm in Florida, in which 170,000
caged hens were gassed or crushed to death, and 30,000 hens starved
to death, after the company declared bankruptcy in January.
I hate forcing the hens off the branches, where they look like
beautiful magnolia blossoms and softly lit candles among the shiny
green leaves. That my interference upsets them is clear from their
voices and from the anxiety with which they now approach their
favorite roosting area, albeit in dwindling numbers. These hens are
drawn to the trees in their yard as instinctively as their wild
relatives are drawn to the trees in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Many people are surprised to learn that chickens evolved in the
tropical forests. Many are even more surprised to learn that chickens
bred for the food industry retain their ancestral instincts and
social behavior. One of the benefits of running a chicken sanctuary
for 15 years is the opportunity I've had to observe and interact with
all kinds of rescued chickens. Regardless of how varied their outward
appearance or how varied their personalities, chickens have a daily
routine embedded in their genes that consists of foraging (scratching
for food) in the morning, sunbathing and dustbathing in the early
afternoon, foraging in the late afternoon, and roosting at sundown.
Their activities are accompanied by emotional expressions that show
how much they enjoy their earthly delights.
A problem with operations like the one in the article in which hens
are stacked in wire cages is that however convenient for management
they may be, they are not suited to chickens, whose constant egg
laying in these systems is not the result of "happiness" but of feed
stimulants and artificially extended daylight hours that keep hens'
overworked ovaries pumping out eggs.
Hens and roosters run around a lot, but in caged layer operations the
hen never gets to take a step. She may even be intentionally starved
for two or three weeks to manipulate the economics of egg production
in the practice known as forced molting. Chickens instinctively peck
because they are foragers-they use their sensitive beaks as hands.
What are they supposed to do in an environment that prevents their
natural beak-related behaviors from being expressed? What can they do
in a barren cage where the only material available for taking a
dustbath is other birds' feathers?
Poultry specialists recognize the inappropriateness of battery cage
systems for hens, which are being phased out in Europe during the
next ten years on welfare grounds. The educated public doesn't want
them, and no wonder. As explained in the February 2002 issue of
Poultry Science, "Hen welfare in a battery cage system is compromised
due to the absence of litter, laying nests, and perches, as well as
to the hen's inability to move."
Hopefully people will think about these things the next time they go
to the store and see those "cheap" eggs that cost the prisoners who
laid them dearly. Chickens need to be outdoors where they can forage,
dustbathe, sunbathe, lay their eggs in peace, and experience the
earthy satisfaction of being chickens. Otherwise the egg,
traditionally a symbol of rebirth, is now the symbol of a tomb.
For more information, readers are encouraged to visit our website at
www.UPC-online.org, or write to United Poultry Concerns, PO Box 150,
Machipongo, VA 23405.
Karen Davis, PhD, is the founder and President of United Poultry
Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate
and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. She is the author of
Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A Poultryless "Poultry"
Potpourri, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the
Modern Poultry Industry, and More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History,
Myth, Ritual, and Reality.
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
(Litchfield County Times: A Cage is No Place for a Hen )