Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media
A battery hen looking out from her cage

Is this a life worth living?

Perhaps even sadder than her story, is the fact that it is not unique – it is the story of millions of hens currently trapped in Australia’s cage egg industry, and the millions more who will suffer until 2036. But you can help rewrite it. Read on to discover how.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated July 24, 2023
As a trick at conferences I sometimes list [their] attributes without mentioning chickens. People assume that I'm talking about monkeys.
Dr Chris Evans, Professor of Psychology Macquarie University, Australia

Hidden in a factory farm, out of sight from compassionate consumers, a ‘layer’ hen is forced to live a miserable existence in a crowded cage. She has been born into a system that values her only for what she produces, instead of who she is – a sensitive, social, and highly intelligent individual.

She even has dreams.[1] At night, as she tries to rest on an uncomfortable, wire floor, what would she dream of? She’ll never dustbathe in sunlight, build a nest and nurture her chicks, or simply spread her wings – all the things that a chicken instinctually desires, just as much as we desire sunshine, connection, and freedom.

She’s forced into lockdown, for life

From the moment she is born, she is forced to endure cruelties that would be illegal if done to a dog or cat. Why? So that the egg industry can meet the consumer demand for eggs and products that use eggs as an ingredient, like certain sauces, pastas, cakes and pastries — while maximising profit. 

As a chick hatched into the egg industry, the tip of her sensitive beak was cut or burnt off without pain relief. She would naturally use her beak to explore the world around her. But crammed into a small, barren cage, confined hens can peck at one another, understandably frustrated by being unable to move freely or nest in private. Enrichment and more room to live would reduce her stress-induced pecking, but instead, ‘beak trimming’ is the industry’s ‘solution’.

Every waking minute of her short life, she will peer through the same cage bars, only to see row upon row of cages with hens just like her. Every night, she’ll try to seek out a comfortable place to roost, which she will never find.

Day after day, she lays eggs on a hard wire floor, until she is sent to slaughter at barely a year and a half old. So too are her friends from free range and organic egg farms. They could live to be 10 years or older. But when their tired bodies — worn out from unnatural, constant egg-laying — slow in producing eggs, they are no longer considered ‘economically valuable’.

The first time she will see the outside world — the world she was meant to live in — will be the last day of her life, as she is trucked to the slaughterhouse.

Her story is not unique.

Over 5 million hens are currently trapped in cages across Australia, their suffering hidden by factory farm walls. And millions more face the same fate.

Although Australian Agriculture Ministers have finally endorsed a legal ban on battery cages (also referred to as ‘conventional cages’), they have sentenced hens to at least another decade of suffering in them. The eight-year Poultry Code review timeline and the phase-out deadline of 2036 highlight that creating legislative change for animals is a slow and challenging process.

While it’s important to get such legislation in place, real and lasting societal change comes not through laws, but through a shift in thinking; a shift in attitudes and a shift in choices. Change at a consumer level – with individuals making kinder choices – is the key way hens and their chicks will be spared from suffering sooner than 2036.

Where are all the roosters?

Because a male chick will never grow to produce eggs, the egg industry has no use for them. So when chicks are hatched in order to replace ‘spent’ layer hens, the male chicks are gassed or tossed alive into machines to be ground up. Simply because they aren’t considered ‘profitable’, male chicks are killed on their first day of life in all egg systems, including free range and organic.

Just like the companion animals we share our homes with, she deserves a life worth living.

While most of us are taught to think that ‘farmed’ animals are all the same, the reality is that every animal is a unique individual. Just like the dogs, cats, and other companions we know and love, a hen can also be social, shy, brave, mischievous, curious, affectionate, or any combination of personality traits.  

What is the same for all animals is their ability to feel – to experience joy and the warmth of connection, or feel sadness and the pain of suffering.

When allowed to live out their natural lives, hens explore their surroundings with intense curiosity, build nests for their young, and communicate with one another with complex vocalisations. A mother hen will even start communicating with her chicks while they’re still in the egg, so when they hatch, they’ll already recognise her. 

Incredibly, those who have adopted rescued battery hens will often speak of the trust a hen will develop, and the friendships she will form, in her new, safe life. No matter what hens have endured, they can see kindness, and give kindness in return.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Two hens enjoy the sunshine, one has her eyes squinted and her foot lifted.
We didn't choose the current farming system — but we can change it. Together, let's shape a kinder future for all hens.
Image credit: We Animals

You can help rewrite this story for hens like her.

It was our ancestors who categorised some animals as ‘friends’ and others as ‘food’. This thinking led to today’s outdated laws and practices which treat animals in a way that caring consumers would never have agreed to had they known.

Our choices can change their world.

It is the choices of caring consumers across Australia that led to a shift in the numbers of hens confined for life to battery cages dropping by 75% in the last 20 years. But even one hen condemned to this life, is one too many…

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[1] Rattenborg NC, van der Meij J, Beckers GJL, Lesku JA. Local Aspects of Avian Non-REM and REM Sleep. Front Neurosci. 2019 Jun 5;13:567. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00567. PMID: 31231182; PMCID: PMC6560081.