Standard Battery Cages
A battery hen spends her entire life in a small cage with five to eight others, in a large, window-less, environmentally controlled shed.
The shed contains many rows of cages, which may be tiered many cages high. The wire cages have small gaps in the front to allow the hens to feed. A sloping mesh floor ensures the eggs roll out of the cage when laid.
One shed may contain as many as 45,000 caged hens. In highly automated sheds, conveyors carry food, waste and eggs along the rows. Feeding and climate are manipulated for maximum production. The sheds are noisy and may smell strongly of the hens' waste and ammonia. The lighting in the sheds is kept dim to minimise aggression.
The health of a battery hen is frequently poor. Stress, disease, severe feather loss, brittle bones weakened from lack of movement, exhaustion and poor diet are common.
Close confinement inside a battery cage frustrates the hen. Her natural instinct to scratch for food, dust-bathe, perch, build nests and fly is denied. Scientific tests have shown that while modern hens lay more eggs, become less broody and more aggressive, they have retained most of their original instincts.
Due to selective breeding a modern battery hen will lay around 300 eggs per year, an extreme increase from the 12-20 of its wild ancestor. This abnormally high production depletes her calcium levels and can lead to osteoporosis and broken bones.
Because of their breeding, and the conditions they are kept in, battery hens tend to peck excessively at themselves and each other and can behave aggressively, which increases the chance of cannibalism. Some egg producers remove part of the hens' beaks (beak trimming) to minimise damage from pecking and to reduce the incidence of cannibalism. The chicks undergo this mutilation before they are ten days old. Depending on how much of the beak is removed, it can slice through sensitive tissues which causes pain.
The end of the line for a spent hen
When a hen's egg production drops below a profitable level, generally after one to two years, she is of no more use and is removed from her cage and transported to slaughter. She is carried upside down by her legs, along with up to three others in each hand of her catcher, and forced into a crate for transportation to the slaughterhouse. Dead layer hens are often disposed of in landfills or may be processed to make soup and pet food.
The fate of males in an egg-laying industry
The egg industry only requires female birds, therefore all layer hen systems, including battery, barn or free range, kill over three million one-day-old chicks annually. Chicks are killed either by gassing with carbon dioxide or being minced up alive in a process called maceration. Female chicks destined for battery cages are reared in overcrowded wire cages and are transferred to battery cages at 16 weeks of age. Battery hens are killed at just 18 months, well short of their natural lifespan of 7-15 years.