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My visit to a cage hen farm

My visit to a cage hen farm

April 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.

Heartbroken

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.

Investigation

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.

Megan Ebersberger

 

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