International Respect for Chickens Day

Today, Star Wars fan and punsters are repeating “May the Forth” be with you. I’ll add “May you go Forth with kindness for chickens.” For today is also International Respect for Chickens Day, a project launched by United Poultry Concerns.

chicken on the go at Pasado'sI’ve met many people who tell me they’ve cut back on red meat or switched from beef to chicken. Whether for health or ethics, this isn’t a good strategy. Chickens are one of the most abused animals on the planet–from the eggs we eat to the way their tiny bodies are stressed in the process of “raising” them for meat.

I’m against eating any animals, but what strikes me as odd about switching from beef to chicken is that because chickens are small, so many more lives are lost to harvest the same quantities of meat.

Here are some facts about chickens that show how wonderful they are and why they shouldn’t become a meal:

Hens are terrific mothers – Hens lay a clutch of eggs and care for them by keeping them warm under their bodies and carefully turning them over several times a day. When the checks hatch, hens protect their young and hide them under their wings when predators are around.

Roosters are great protectors – Roosters watch over their flocks, alert hens to danger, and will fight off predators. If roosters find food, they will call their families over to share the treat.a hen in Hawaii

Chickens are smart – They communicate, they can count, they express their feelings, they feel joy, pain and sorrow. They will help other animals, and if given the chance, are wonderful members of a family. They are as social and individual as any dog or cat.

I heard about a chicken who adopted a duck egg. She took care of the egg, just as she did with the other eggs she laid. When the duckling hatched, she walked him over to water, so he could swim. She loved and cared for that duck, and she knew he wasn’t a chick.

Nine billion chickens are killed for food every year in the US alone–and they are exempt from animal cruelty laws.

What to do?

  • Please don’t eat chickens or their eggs. There are so many alternatives like Beyond Chicken, Ener-G Egg Replacer. I wrote about egg substitutes earlier on this blog. And UPC has a wealth of chicken-free recipes too.
  • Contact your federal and state senators and urge them to ban debeaking and battery cages, and to include poultry under the Federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
  • Tell your friends and family about how wonderful chickens are and that they shouldn’t be eaten.

May is International Respect for Chickens Month, so let’s keep the momentum and spread the word about these wonderful animals who are so mistreated.

Why vegans don’t eat eggs

When I was a vegetarian, I ate eggs and I drank milk. “They’re byproducts,” I’d say. “The chickens and cows don’t get hurt.” I was convinced of this. Then I read Diet for a New America and found out how wrong I was. I cut out eggs and dairy immediately.

So what’s wrong with eggs?chicks

It starts at the hatcheries–the places that breed chickens and incubate eggs. Hatcheries are where factory farms, free-range operations, and even “urban farmers” get their chicks.

The boys – On day one, all male chicks are killed. They’re ground up alive, gassed, or dumped in the trash and left to die. The boys, you see, have no value. They won’t lay eggs, and they’re not meaty broilers like their cousins. They are useless to the egg industry.

That’s enough for me to ditch eggs. But wait, there’s more:

Confinement – On factory farms hens are crammed into tiny battery cages. Each bird has less “floor space” than an iPad (except, unlike an iPad, she has to stand on wire). In these conditions, hens will become frustrated and crazy and will sometimes hurt each other.

Debeaking – To prevent injuries, chickens are, well, injured. When they’re still babies, they have the ends of their beaks seared off with a hot blade. Even free-range set-ups will often have debeaked hens. A lot of so-called free-range farms are really just cageless, not roomy. They’re cramped warehouses that may or may not have outdoor access.hens in battery cages

An unhealthy environment – These “farms” stink to high heaven and the air is so polluted that the ammonia will burn your eyes (if they let you in). My mom saw first-hand what a small-scale battery-cage farm looks like. You can read about her experience on her guest post at Honk if you’re Vegan.

Physical stress – In nature, a hen will lay a clutch of eggs (maybe 10 or 12) in a nest, where she will sit on them for three weeks until her chicks hatch. She won’t lay eggs again until her young can fend for themselves, so she gets a break from laying. But on egg farms, hens have their eggs taken away so they keep laying. It’s stressful on their bodies and depletes them of calcium, which often causes osteoporosis. Up to a quarter of battery hens experience bone breaks during their short lives.

Willow at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

This rescued hen, Willow, is safe now (picture (c) Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary)

To get the most eggs from indoor hens, some farms practice forced molting. Farm operators stop feeding hens for a week or two, which causes them to shed their feathers and simulate the fall season, when they would normally stop laying eggs. After an induced period of “rest,” in which they lose about a third of their body weight, they begin to lay again. This practice is banned in some countries. Where it does exists (like the USA), it coaxes another laying season out of already taxed birds.

Hens are social, nurturing and smart–when in a natural setting. But to the egg industry, they’re a commodity–valuable only when they’re making someone money. So after a year or two, when hens lay fewer eggs, they’re slaughtered.

The egg industry is inherently cruel. Over 95% of birds come from factory farms. Even those who are “treated well” have lost their brothers. And most, even those from hobby farms and urban coops, are sold, or killed when they lose their value.

Animals deserve to live their own lives. A hen’s worth is not tied to what she can give me. And there are so many egg alternatives. There’s no need for cruelty.

That’s why vegans don’t eat eggs.