Egg-laying Hens

There are around 2 million egg-laying hens in Ireland. Over half of these are kept in enriched cages; the rest are in alternative systems, mainly free range.

Caged hens have their movement seriously restricted and cannot carry out natural behaviours such as dust-bathing. They will never experience natural light or fresh air until they are removed at the end of their laying life for slaughter at around 15 – 18 months old.

Free range and organic systems provide hens with a large shed which has openings onto an outside area allowing them free access during the day. Free range hens can behave naturally; they can scratch and peck at the ground, stretch and flap their wings, dust bathe and perch high. They are also slaughtered at 15 – 18 months old. 

In organic systems the hens have more space and are fed on grain grown without artificial fertilizers or pesticides.

Key Welfare Issues

Overcrowding: the worst overcrowding occurs in cage systems where hens are unable to move freely. Waste and ammonia can build up fast causing health issues.

Feather Pecking: hens may peck at each other’s feathers and this can lead to injuries. They do this due to boredom and frustration as they don’t have sufficient foraging opportunities.

Beak Trimming: Hens commonly have their beaks trimmed to ensure birds do not injure each other but this procedure can cause lasting pain.

Male Chicks: these are killed at birth or soon after as there is no use for them. The most widely used method is putting them live into high speed grinders or gassing. Some are used as feed for exotic pets and wildlife in rehabilitation centres. There are actually no hatcheries in Ireland for egg laying hens, the chicks are all imported at one day old, which is another welfare issue. Of course the hatcheries the chicks are imported from will kill the males. 

Broiler Chickens

Over 100 million broiler chickens are slaughtered each year in Ireland. The vast majority have been reared intensively on factory farms, in crowded sheds, usually without windows or natural light. They do not have access to outdoors and cannot carry out their natural behaviours. They are slaughtered at just 6 weeks old.

Free range systems provide chickens with a large shed which has openings onto an outside area allowing them free access during the day. Free range chickens can behave naturally; they can scratch and peck at the ground, stretch and flap their wings, dust bathe.

In organic systems the hens have more space and are fed on grain grown without artificial fertilizers or pesticides.

Key Welfare Issues

Fast Growth: Standard broilers have been selectively bred to grow incredibly fast reaching slaughter weight at around 5 – 6 weeks old. This fast growth leaves the birds vulnerable to painful leg problems and heart disorders as they struggle to support their own weight. Heart disorders can lead to sudden death. Broilers are permanently hungry and can have difficulty accessing food and water as they can have difficulty standing up. 

Over-crowding: Factory farmed chickens live in crowded sheds, usually without windows or natural light. It is normal for a shed to contain 10,000 to 30,000 birds. The chickens are reared on the floor, which is covered in a deep layer of litter. Conditions can become filthy and cramped as the birds grow.

Skin Problems: Due to leg weakness, many birds spend a long time sitting on the floor. Lengthy contact with soiled litter can cause blisters to develop on the birds’ breasts, ulcers on their feet and burns on their legs. These can all be very painful.

Lameness: skeletal disorders, bone deformity and other leg disorders are common causes of lameness which impair movement and cause lethargy making it difficult for the birds to reach food and water.

Breeders: as broilers grow so quickly, which causes all kinds of sever health issues, breeders have their food restricted to stop them growing so rapidly and also increase fertility. Breeders may also undergo mutilations such as beak trimming, de-toeing and de-spurring to prevent injury through fighting. Restricted feeding means the breeders suffer from chronic hunger and increased competition around feeding time can lead to injuries amongst the birds. 

Free range and organic farms commonly use slower growing breeds and they are slaughtered at around 8 weeks and 10 weeks respectively, which is still much faster growth than would occur naturally. To put it in perspective and egg laying is not fully grown until around 6 months old. 

 

                             

 

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