• June 24, 2020
Sally-Ann Hart and Buddy, a rescue chicken “caked in blood” when rescued from a battery farm. Photo: Jasmin Bull
Chicken rescuers are urging Kiwis to stop buying eggs, after witnessing inhumane practices in the egg industry.
Hens from free-range and caged chicken farms are routinely killed at 18 months old and turned into blood and bone.
Animal rescuer Sally-Ann Hart arrived too late to save hens from a bankrupt free-range farm in November last year.
She found 6000 hens packed into a shed designed for 1000, with three buckets of water and no food.
Many hens were already dead; others had to be euthanised because they were “too far gone", Ms Hart said.
After taking the hens that were still alive back to her sanctuary, one went to hide in her shed. Ms Hart noticed she was unwell, took her inside, and gave her a bath.
“I just felt her whole body relaxed, and she just closed her eyes, and I just knew she wasn’t coming back from this. I just wrapped her up and stroked her head.”
The hen died moments after.
Some farms allow rescuers to take chickens away before they are killed, but Ms Hart says the hens are often in poor health.
When rescuing hens from a free-range egg farm, founder of North Canterbury Chicken Rescue Amanda Gill says they were in bad condition, with foot infections and leg mites.
“Their sleeping quarter was knee-high with poo from where they were sleeping for the last year. It hadn’t been cleared out.”
When rescuing hens from a cage-free barn farm, Ms Gill found the chickens had pecked each other until they had just a few feathers left.
“They didn’t go outside, they couldn’t do anything. There was no enrichment for them.”
Ms Hart says the lives of caged chickens are worse.
“The battery cages are so grim. There’s two chickens and they’re so brittle and fragile because they haven’t been able to move for the last year.”
Ms Hart rescued Buddy from a battery cage farm where she was “caked in blood” with few feathers left, and adopted the chicken herself.
Buddy acts like a “little human”, roosting on her doorstep and jumping into her car when she drives her kids to school.
“We’re hardwired to see mammals as something to love and be affectionate towards, but birds often don’t get that same caring.
“They have such capacity to love and trust,” says Ms Hart.
Almost 4 million hens, 48 per cent of New Zealand layer flock, are in battery cages, which are smaller in dimensions than an A4 sheet of paper.
Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand executive director Michael Brooks says poorer families rely on trays of caged eggs as a cost-effective protein source.
“I know there’s welfare issues, but there are also cost issues.”
Battery cages will be banned in New Zealand by the end of 2022 and replaced by colony cages, which house 60 to 80 birds. They will have one scratchpad, a perching and nesting area.
The SPCA website says colony cages do not meet the welfare needs of hens.
Ms Hart says her message to the public is to “stop buying eggs”, and the farms will simply shut down.
She says people can buy truly ethical eggs by posting on a local grapevine or Facebook page and asking for someone who has pet chickens.
Ms Gill says she recommends people not to buy from supermarkets because store-bought hens are just fed pellets, so their eggs are lacking in the nutrients and taste that rescue hen eggs provide.