The overwhelming majority of marketable eggs are produced in battery operations like this (Compassion Over Killing).
Recent research indicates that chickens are far more complex and intelligent than the pejorative birdbrain implies. Dr. Chris Evans (animal behavior, Macquarie University) found that hens have up to 30 different communicative calls. One conveys happiness upon finding food (with a particular favorite like corn receiving a tweak), while another identifies the location. Dr. Evans: “As a trick at conferences I sometimes list these attributes without mentioning chickens. People assume that I’m talking about monkeys.” Dr. Lesley Rogers (neuroscience and animal behavior, University of New England) writes, “It is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates.” And Dr. Joy Mench (animal science, UCDavis) says, “[Chickens] can recognize more than a hundred other chickens and remember them.”
The laying process is very personal for the mother hen. She needs a safe perch and a comfortable nest. The Nobel Prize-winning ornithologist Konrad Lorenz: “The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act. For the person who knows something about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for cover.”
Descartes theorized that animals are machines; since they do not have minds, pain and suffering does not exist. In 2009, there is no more ruthless application of this theory than in battery egg production (industry standard since the mid-20th Century). Because male chicks will not grow fast or large enough to be raised for meat, they are discarded as trash. Discarded, that is, by suffocation (simply bagged with the other newborns) or by grinding alive. For the surviving females, the suffering is far greater.
First, half of the upper beak and one-third of the lower beak is seared off with a hot blade. No anesthesia. The industry likens the process to a manicure. But famed zoologist Roger Brambell wrote: “There is no physiological basis for the assertion that the operation is similar to the clipping of human finger nails. Between the horn and bone [of the beak] is a thin layer of highly sensitive soft tissue, resembling the quick of the human nail. The hot knife blade used in debeaking cuts through this complex horn, bone and sensitive tissue causing severe pain.” Debeaking is supposed to prevent hens from injuring one another (through aggression brought on by stress). Several hens are crammed into small wire cages (stacked many tiers high) with no room to spread their wings. There, they are expected to produce about one egg per day. In the hatchery, they are not allowed to keep their babies, so maternal instincts are thwarted. In order to maintain product flow (83 eggs/year in 1900, 300 eggs/year in 2000), forced molting (through light manipulation and sometimes starvation) to regenerate the reproductive system for an additional season, especially in the U.S., is common.
Finally, the spent machines are collected for transport to the abattoir. Grabbed by their feet, the hens are thrown into crates (the National Chicken Council: “For birds weighing more than four pounds, the maximum number of birds per hand is five.”), and broken bones are common. The Humane Slaughter Act (1958) does not protect poultry, so safeguards for pigs and cows (pitiful as they are) do not apply. They are usually given an “electric bath” to immobilize (not to induce unconsciousness) for worker safety and efficiency. Next, the shackle and slash. Some, mockingly called “redskins,” will reach the scalding defeathering tank very much alive. At long last, the hell, which defines their entire existence on this planet, ends.