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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Shawn Bishop, Animal Sanctuary