Flicker’s Lair Blog

Why we raise chickens

by Heidi on October 30th, 2009
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We started raising chickens as part of our goal of self-sufficiency, to save money and to have a supply of eggs and meat from birds we knew had led a good and natural life. But the happy, truly free range, natural life our chickens have is a far cry from the conditions most chickens live in.

Bantam hen with chicks Buff Chantecler Roosters Bovan Nera hen

A long time ago I saw a picture of a ‘battery’ hen in the tiny cages they keep them in, the image is one I have not been able to get out of my mind. Which has meant that shopping for eggs or chicken always involved finding free range and paying the extra.

Battery cages usually hold four or more hens which are crowded into an area measuring just sixteen inches wide. The cages are stacked in tiers and lined up in rows in huge sheds. The hens are crowded so tightly, that they cannot even stretch their wings or legs. Constantly rubbing against the wire cages, they suffer from severe feather loss, and their bodies are covered with bruises and abrasions. Some birds do not survive this ordeal – it is not uncommon to discover rotting bird carcasses inside the cages.

98% of Canada’s 26 million egg laying hens are kept in battery cages

~ Veg.ca – The plight of egg-laying chickens in Canada

In England finding free range was easier and it can be relied upon to a certain degree. Here it has been trickier and free range doesn’t really mean free range, or at least not the way I think of it. Often it means the chickens live in an enormous shed with a small door out to a tiny grassy area, or maybe they have access to a dirt yard where nothing grows. Here in Canada ‘free range’ isn’t regulated, there are no criteria for things such as environmental quality, size of the outside area, number of birds, or space per bird, just that they have a door that they may not even understand to use, and that they will be discouraged from using.

Commercial cage-free farms are not kept in cages, but they still have their sensitive beaks cut off with a hot blade and are crammed together in filthy sheds where they will live for years until their egg production wanes and they’re sent to slaughter. They never go outside, breathe fresh air, feel the sun on their backs, or do anything else that is natural or important to them. They suffer from the same lung lesions and ammonia burns as hens in cages, and they have breast blisters to add to their suffering.

~ GoVeg.com – The Egg Industry’s History of Deceiving Consumers

Recently I read a post on TreeHugger called Hatchery Horrors. It made me realize that the horror of battery cages is only a part of the brutality chickens in the ‘industrial’ food chain are subjected to. It starts when they are chicks and the unnecessary males are ground up while still alive!

Chickens raised for meat, known as broilers, although not confined in cages like egg laying chickens live in extremely crowded, barren environments. They have been bred to grow so quickly that organs and skeleton don’t always keep up, which can cause crippling and and painful leg and skeletal deformities.

By slaughter, each bird has only a half-square foot (465 sq cm) of space. That’s less than the size of a computer mouse pad.

Massive amounts of manure accumulate in the floor litter creating high moisture and ammonia content, which results in the birds suffering litter burn. The air quality also deteriorates, becoming polluted with ammonia, dust and micro-organisms, causing respiratory infections and sores.

~ Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) – Broiler Chickens

The transportation and slaughter processes are equally brutal, for both egg layers and broilers, but I must admit that I can not bring myself to read anymore or write about them. I am still struggling to process the fact that in their short lives they may never have seen sunlight.

Why don’t you take a look at this TreeHugger slide show.

It isn’t just about the torture the animals are subjected to, but also about the ‘product’ that is then supplied to you the consumer. As I learnt reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto these industrial methods of production have a significant negative effect on the nutrition and health benefits of our food.

From my sources you could be excused for thinking I am suggesting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle – I am not. I just don’t believe in sustaining myself through the suffering of others and I let that dictate my shopping and eating habits. Think about it next time you are in the grocery store. The only way that industry will acknowledge the issue and change is if people vote with their dollars. Even better skip the grocery store and go to your local farmers market or check out eatwild.com.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday, why don’t you head over and check out some of the other shared wisdom.

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