At the sanctuary we have a small flock of rescued ex-battery hens. Rescued ex-battery hens have usually lost all their feathers from rubbing against the cage walls, and they are unfamiliar with grass and the outside world. However, they soon learn to walk and dust-bathe, and their feathers grow back. It is wonderful to see them scratching in the grass, sunning themselves and enjoying the normal life of a hen.
Chickens originated in the trees of Asia, and are more intelligent than most people realise. According to scientist Chris Evans, chickens make referential food calls that are arguably at the fringe of language. Chickens make at least 20 distinct sounds with separate meanings, can recognize at least 80 individuals in a flock, learn from each other, and perform spectacular courtship displays.
Nearly three million layer hens in this country live in live in barren cages, with less than an A4 sheet of paper’s space per bird. A few huge companies dominate the egg industry; the largest is Mainland Poultry Ltd, who sell mainly battery eggs under the “Farmer Brown” label. Caged hens suffer from osteoporosis, deformed feet, feather loss, and boredom. Many battery hen farmers add canthaxanthin, a fat soluble dye, to chickenfeed to colour the yolks yellow. Often hens are debeaked; a painful process that removes the sensitive end of the beak. As a caged hen cannot nest, she will frantically try to find an enclosed nest site, feeling intense frustration that she is unable to do so. Hens naturally live for 8 to 10 years, but in battery farms they are slaughtered at eighteen months of age because their egg production temporarily decreases. Though free range conditions are less harsh, hens are still killed prematurely, and sometimes have little access to green grass and outdoor life.
But isn't the government going to stop battery farming?
The New Zealand government recently reviewed the legislation that governs the conditions that hens live in. Sadly, intensive farming still continues, even though battery cages will be replaced with 'colony cages'. These still imprison hens in cruel conditions - it just means more hens in a bigger cage. In a colony cage, each hen still has only 600 square centimetres of space, leass than an A4 sheet of paper. We believe that all hens should live in freedom throughout their natural lifespan.
One simple way to help hens is to boycott cruelly produced eggs.You can find more information at http://www.safe.org.nz/stop-factory-farming/