My visit to a cage hen farmApril 19th, 2016
Guest blogger Megan Ebersberger is an independent and passionate animal advocate. Megan visited the colony cage egg farm that was recently subject to an investigation.
I am an animal rights activist in a country whose national identity is strongly based in farming and animal agriculture. New Zealanders have a unique albeit contradictory cultural relationship with other animals. That relationship must be carefully considered when navigating the treacherous waters of animal rights activism. Much has been done to try to discredit the animal rights movement here in NZ. People seem to not like when activists and vegans address the fundamental cruelties of animal industries or when they address the excessive cruelties as in the most recent undercover investigations of hen neglect at Heyden Farms, a commercial cage-egg farm in the Waikato.
A few weeks ago, I embarked on a freelance activism project with my friend, Lynley Tulloch, in an attempt to better understand New Zealand’s egg industry. Unaware of a recent investigation, I contacted Paul van der Heyden, co-owner with Sir Henry van der Heyden, of Heyden Farms. We spent the afternoon discussing the ins and outs of the egg industry and had a tour of their new colony cage shed and egg packaging facility.
Heyden Farms has 300,000 hens with 40,000 free-range hens on two different properties. 260,000 hens live in their conventional and new colony cages. The industry is replacing the old cages with yet another cage, and investing millions of dollars in the large-scale farms. It’s a massive and expensive undertaking and will put many of the smaller farms out of business. To be profitable, an egg farm must have a high volume of hens. Economics of scale. Housing hens in cages is cheaper and requires significantly less land than free-ranging them, which is part of the reason the industry is reluctant to ditch cages. Colony cages are applauded as the more humane cage, fitted with ‘enrichments’ and larger in size. But are they really an improvement? We didn’t think so.
When we walked into the colony shed and saw the birds, my heart broke. While the farmers excitedly showed us all the different components of the cage and conveyor belt that transported the eggs to their egg packaging facility, I was locked onto the hens. Many of them were open-mouth breathing, which is a sign of stress. It was pure chaos in those cages. They barely had room to move. All had some degree of feather loss. All had had their beaks clipped, which the farmer said is done at the hatchery, where the male chicks are ground up alive, as well.
The cages were stacked five tall and it was sad to look up and see hens staring down at us. Everywhere we turned, we were surrounded by masses of hens. They looked miserable. Their ‘enrichments’ were hard plastics – orange plastic flaps for the nest box and a plastic scratch pad. The perch was too low to be considered natural. Some driven insane by confinement, they displayed stereotypic behaviours like pecking each other repetitively.
Sadly, we left the farm with a heavy heart. This is legal.
It was pure coincidence that the farm I contacted for my project was the same farm that was investigated. There was a reason why Paul wouldn’t let us into any of the other sheds. He had said that twice-daily walks were conducted to free stuck hens and remove dead birds. If numerous birds were able to decompose so badly as shown in the footage, it does not seem that there is any doubt that the farmer and his employees were not doing a good job. Even without knowledge of this investigation, I thought colony sheds were cruel. Even with best practice, those sheds are cruel. Colony sheds are horrific places. They are truly hell on earth. Is this how we treat our fellow creatures? Locked away in a dimly lit shed so they can lay eggs every day?
Mr van der Heyden said he loved his animals and loved their products. I am sure he does love their product. But as far as him loving the hens that lay those products? I truly don’t believe love is the appropriate word for hens that are kept in cages and denied everything that is important to them. The only time they are let out is when they’re 18 months old and their laying season is over – then they are lovingly sent to slaughter to have their throats slit and feathers boiled off.
While practices like these are legal, they will continue to exist. And of course, even on free-range farms the male chicks will still be killed for having no monetary value. Hens suffer on all levels of the industrial egg industry and I believe it is unethical to continue farming them. Please ditch eggs.
If you’re ready to help hens, I recommend checking out SAFE’s 30-Day Go Veg Challenge.
I also support SAFE’s campaign asking Countdown to stop stocking all cage eggs. It’s so important that hens are not allowed to suffer this way for profit. You can help.