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Picture this. A lovely Sunday morning at a local cafe with your family or friends, enjoying a hearty breakfast of scrambled or poached eggs. The paper is propped open, you half listen to the lively conversation and laughter around you. The smell of coffee and toast wafts through the air.
Flashback. The hen that lay those eggs endured that day, imprisoned in a cage too small for her to spread her wings or turn around. She clings to the cold wire on the bottom of her cage, no soft bedding that needs cleaning. The pain of her abscesses and sore claws, her constant companion.
That is, assuming that the eggs on that Sunday brunch table came from a common type of factory farm caged hen.
Chickens desperately need your help. Humans love of eggs has confined layer hens to lives of pain and misery in factory farms to supply the insatiable demand.
Factory farming has turned living and breathing chickens into egg-producing machines. Fair enough they lay eggs, but chickens are not mere machines.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Not everyone wants to give up eating eggs completely, but you can take action to help.
Firstly, take care where you buy your eggs from. Only buy from farmers that focus on their hen’s welfare. Secondly, try to reduce the amount of animal produce you consume.
The current demand is driving the factory farm epidemic. And things are only getting worse as we consume more and more animal products.
So how do you know where to buy eggs from?
You’ve probably seen a myriad of certification stickers such as ‘free range’, ‘organic’, ‘barn laid’ and so on. What do they all mean and what is the best option for the chickens?
Things are complicated as different bodies across different countries specify their own particular standards and certifications.
DENSITY OF LAYING HENS
Free-range eggs are hatched by hens not confined to cages. (Barn laid eggs are laid by hens free of cages, but in barns rather than outside.)
One of the most important factors in the definition of free range is the density of the chickens in a given space.
Just imagine half a million hens squashed into a small field or paddock. While those hens are not in cages, conditions might conceivably be worse.
The CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), a research agency of the Australian Federal Government, published a document in 2002 titled the ‘Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals Domestic Poultry 4th Edition‘.
This model code for treatment of free range layer hens suggests a maximum stocking density – for an outside range – of 1,500 hens per hectare. Which is one hen per 6 square meters.
This equates to approximately 607 hens per acre.
THE MARKETING VALUE OF FREE-RANGE, BARN-LAID, ORGANIC AND SO ON
If eggs are labeled ‘free range’ or ‘barn-laid’, and so on, they can be sold for more in the supermarket. This is fair as it costs farmers more.
However, these certifications can become a political football. For example a law passed in Australia in 2017 allowing eggs to be labelled as free-range so long as the stocking density of the laying hens was 10,000 per hectare or less. This is a lot higher than the 1,500 per hectare in the CSIRO model code.
Some free-range farmers honour the lower stocking density recommended by the CSIRO. But other farmers have stocking densities of up to 10,000 per hectare.
If you buy free-range eggs in Australia, only buy from farmers that look after for the welfare of the hens, with a stocking density of 1,500 or less per hectare.
If you are paying more to buy free range, make sure that you are buying true free-range.
Following are some links to help you find the best eggs for the welfare of the chickens in your country. Chickens are largely helpless – they need your help.