Posts Tagged ‘free range’

The following article is by SAFE guest blogger Shawn Bishop, who runs an animal sanctuary in Matakana that rehabilitates injured native birds and offers a safe, loving home to a variety of animals.

Through an arrangement with farmers Shawn has rescued many battery hens who, due to being at the end of their ‘useful life’ at just 18 months of age, would otherwise be killed. Just recently, Shawn was involved in a rescue of free-range hens. Here she discusses the shock reaction some people experienced at seeing the terrible state of the free-range birds.

Rescued – to a new life

The hen rescue in February (2013) was a success, in that we were able to bring 97 hens away with us. However, many of them are in a terrible physical state. A visitor this morning cried when she saw them. It may shock you to learn that these are free-range hens, not battery hens.

Free range hen







The dominant ones look OK, but the majority have feather loss or raw areas where they’ve been pecked due to the intensive nature of even free-range farms.

The truth is, intensive farming is concentration camp farming, whether they are in cages or not.

Although free-range animals may have a comparatively better life than caged hens, you can see for yourself that these hens have suffered. As SAFE puts it:

All commercial farming systems have some form of cruelty inherent in the system – for example, most animal husbandry practices cause stress or pain and, of course, no farm animal will ever live out its natural life. Any kind of animal farming is not done in the interest of the animals themselves and causes suffering for them. They are bred solely for profit.”

With millions of unwanted male chicks (from all industries) also being ground up alive in New Zealand it’s easy to despair.

When will we learn? All this suffering for the temporary pleasure of a cheap egg.

The hens we were able to rescue will go through a period of rehabilitation and healing, and then be adopted out to good, permanent homes.

Free Range Concerns

I know many people will feel extreme dismay and discouragement at these images. I see this so often that I thought it was important to reveal the truth behind many free-range eggs.

Of course we rescue the worst – but the truth is that this is all too common. Many people asked where this happened, so here’s another shock: the independent free-range farm we rescued from is actually a ‘good’ one, compared to others! Consider this:

  • The farm from which we rescued these hens has just over 1000 hens per barn.
  • In comparison the new free-range farm near us has 7,500 hens per barn and the SPCA Blue Tick allows 4000 per barn.
  • The welfare regulations and the SPCA Blue Tick criteria allow 10 hens per square metre on a free-range farm. That’s packed! This farm has six per square metre, almost half that density and you’ve seen the state our new hens are in.
  • The main egg companies require that all laying hens are replaced (i.e. killed) by 18 months. And they do NOT allow rescues. This farmer does.

So your target isn’t this farm per se, it’s the bigger companies that do the minimum allowed by law, to spend less on welfare and make more money. I hear you ask in frustration, “So what do I do?! I thought I was avoiding cruelty by buying free range eggs!” Well, there ARE several positive things you can do.

Cruelty Free Eggs?

We don’t want people thinking they might as well buy any eggs since cruelty-free cannot be assured, so here are some ideas on how to avoid the cruelty of ALL intensive egg production

  1. Stop using eggs. There are a million recipes for great baking and food without eggs. Try visiting Go Veg, Chef In You or Cruelty Free Recipes. If you can’t stop completely, reduce as much as you can.
  2. If you want to use eggs but want them to be guaranteed cruelty-free, then get a small coop and keep a couple of pet hens in your backyard. Even in the city and suburbs of Auckland you’re allowed to have up to six hens. They make great pets (who’d have thought it, but it’s true!!) and you’ll have healthy happy eggs as a bonus. You can even adopt 18-month-old rescued ex-battery or ex-free range hens from rescue/rehab centres. We’re organising them all over the country, and they’ll soon be posted on The NZ Hen Welfare Trust facebook page.
  3. If you can’t have hens of your own, find someone who does. Many people have pet hens who produce more eggs than they need, and they’d be happy to sell you some to help pay for the feed for their hens.

Thank you for caring. For more information check out SAFE’s infographic and follow the Animal Sanctuary on Facebook.

Shawn Bishop, Animal Sanctuary

Working as an animal rights campaigner for SAFE often makes you wonder whether you are making a difference. Animal exploitation is so widespread that you can’t help but question whether all your efforts are actually bringing about some benefit for the animals you are trying to help.

Working in animal rights also means that complete victories are rare and as such they should be cherished. The disappearance of circuses using exotic animals and an end to keeping dolphins in captivity for example, are achievements to celebrate as they represent a permanent change in the animal-use landscape.

Working against the worst cruelty

But what about the results of SAFE’s main campaigns, the ones on factory farming issues?  Unfortunately, small steps seem to be the only way to victory here. As an animal rights organisation, SAFE is opposed to all livestock farming but we realize that our society as a whole is not yet ready to give up on all animal products. SAFE is therefore prepared to work on more welfare-based campaigns to at least stop the worst forms of factory farm cruelty. SAFE’s campaign to ban sow stalls was successful in that sow stalls will be banned in a few years but sows will still be farmed in alternative intensive conditions and will still spend months in farrowing crates for many years to come. The situation is similarly grim for battery hens. While our efforts to ban battery hen cages will result in an eventual phase-out of the standard cage, another type of battery cage, called a colony cage, will take its place and many hens will continue to suffer extreme confinement for decades to come.

With all this grim news, it is easy to forget that we are making progress! Public awareness of factory farming issues has grown enormously over the last decade and more and more consumers are now deliberately avoiding factory-farmed pork and eggs. While some of these people may avoid all eggs and pork most do not, and choose to buy free range products. This development has seen a huge increase in free range eggs in supermarkets and a number of small goods companies offering free range or free-farmed pig products.

The ethical consumer

The media and food industry magazines have recognised this change in consumer behaviour and a number of articles have been published to discuss the rise of the ethical consumer and the consequences for the farming sector. It has been good to see that these articles all contributed the growing public awareness to the success of animal rights groups in getting the issues into the mainstream media.

Retailers have started to respond to consumer concern. Supermarkets are allocating more space to free range products on their shelves, cafés and restaurants are switching to free range eggs and meats, McDonald’s replaced their battery eggs with free range in the South Island and Domino’s Pizza now uses free range chicken and wants to replace all their other factory-farmed meats with free range.

As an animal rights organisation, SAFE does not promote free range. Free range farms still exploit animals and there are a number of welfare problems associated with outdoor farming. Male chicks of egg laying breeds are destroyed at only one day of age, some layer hens are debeaked and free range pigs may have nose rings inserted to prevent them from digging. Large-scale free range egg farms keep tens of thousands of hens in massive flocks in unnatural conditions. Free range animals are slaughtered at the same young age as their factory-farmed counterparts and the journey to the slaughterhouse is, of course, a stressful time for all animals.

Small steps forward

In the context of taking small steps forward however, the move towards free range needs to be seen in a positive light. When consumers spend more money on a product because of animal welfare concerns, they acknowledge (often for the first time) that they understand that factory farmed animals suffer. The challenge for animal rights groups like SAFE is to use this newfound public understanding to encourage consumers to widen their circle of compassion and to take further steps to help animals.

So in the end, I do believe that we are making a difference for animals but that we still have a long way to go. The change to free range must not be seen as the end goal but rather as a stepping stone to a more compassionate society, a society where animals are not exploited for their eggs, milk, meat or fur. The steady growth of the number of vegetarians and vegans gives me hope that a future without the exploitation of animals is possible. SAFE will continue to do all it can to stop cruelty to animals but we can’t do it without your help. Your decision to stop buying animal products is the single most powerful thing you can do for the animals, the environment and your own health so why not give it a go? Like me, you will feel so much better for it!

Hans Kriek
SAFE Director