Aren't Chickens all the
Same? Why pay more for Organic Chicken?
What's the fuss about chickens, their
meat and their eggs? Aren't they all the same? Organic chicken
is expensive. Why should you pay more for your meat and eggs?
Why buy free range as opposed to intensively farmed poultry?
Well, they may be more expensive,
admittedly, but then as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for.
And aren't barn fowls that have access to the outside the same as free
range chickens? Surely they are all the same? Well, no, they are not.
So what are the options,
as consumers, do we have? Well, there are 4 options:
Battery hens or caged chickens is your
intensive farming option. These are hens that live mercifully short
lives in horrendous conditions to provide you with both eggs and meat.
They never have access to the outside world and therefore are never
allowed to indulge in those normal chicken behaviors like having a sand
bath or foraging for food.
Instead, battery hens share a cage 1m x
1m or less with about 18 other chickens with no space to flap their
wings or escape from stressed neighbors who resort to self-preservation
and lash out and peck whoever is in their way. This is despite the
cruel practice of cutting the beaks, called debeaking to blunt them and
prevent excessive pecking.
Repeated pecking results in loss of
feathers and bleeding bodies and for anyone, like myself who has
rescued battery hens it is a sad sight to behold. But it is also a joy,
after about 3-4 months, when they finally regain their feathers,
dignity and confidence and become the chickens that they were meant to
Battery hens have no nests to lay their
eggs, instead their floor slopes downwards so that any egg laid rolls
away before being crushed by the 36 existing feet that may get in the
way. For those that die whilst in the cage, more times than not their
neighbors ending up trampling all over the body so that eventually it
decomposes and gets chipped through the wire to end up in bits on the
floor or cages beneath.
For those battery hens that don’t
mercifully die they have to live in these conditions for 2 years before
they are then culled and a new lot brought in to replace them.
The food that battery hens are given is
often genetically modified feed and antibiotics are given as a matter
of routine to prevent any diseases rather than administering them if
they get sick. With such over-crowding and filthy living conditions,
disease is inevitable.
2 of my
rescued battery hens before their feathers started growing
for those of you who are reading this, and think that I am exaggerating
here are 2 of 15 battery hens I rescued 2 years ago that were ready to
be disposed of due to being 'past their prime'.
These are Leghorns but you
would not recognize them as such. They came with pale, anaemic combs
and a lot of their feathers missing. They weren't molting, they were
just in very poor condition and had been cannabalized by their fellow
caged mates. Fortunately, they had not been de-beaked as most
battery hens are.
After feeding them plenty of greens and
a good, balanced diet they soon regrew their feathers and rewarded me
with excellent eggs. They were certainly not past their sell-by-date!
Barn Chickens versus Organic Chickens
Barn chickens are relatively better
off, but in many instances they are just as over-crowded in their
living conditions and again, don’t get to see the outside world. Here
they have marginally more room with about 15 chickens to a square meter
rather than the 18 birds in the battery farms.
In all fairness barn chickens are
allowed to express more of their natural behavior. They are given
nesting boxes to nest in, and they are given perches to sit on.
Furthermore, their barn floors are usually spread with some form of
litter that allows the chickens to scratch about looking for imaginary
insects or some fallen food.
In Australia there are some barn
chickens that only have 7 chickens per square meter and have been given
the blessing of the Royal Society for Protection of Animals (RSPCA).
You can easily identify such eggs at the supermarkets as the RSPCA logo
is clearly placed for endorsement. However, don't be lulled into
thinking that these chickens are much better to eat as they too can be
fed genetically modified feed and are also given antibiotics.
in over-crowded conditions
Free-Range Chickens versus Organic Chickens
Free-range chickens are lucky. They now
have access to the great wide world, and are allowed to forage for
insects and grubs. When housed in bad weather and at night they are
stocked to 10 birds per square meter. Outside they are stocked 750
birds per hectare.
But before you head off to the
supermarket to pick up your free-range eggs and chooks, think again.
Yes, these birds don't have a routine antibiotic management system in
place, but they don't always have access to as much of the outdoors as
Free-range chickens, in the main, are
housed in large barns that have access to the outdoors. So many
chickens may never find the open door to the outside, spending
therefore more time inside than out.
In addition, during the wet season
these free-range chickens could be housed in the barns for weeks at a
Many free-range chicken farms have no
space for stock rotation
and again feeding their poultry with genetically modified feed is
Free-range chickens - but not so
free as you would think!
Finally, we look at organic chickens.
Farmers here are not allowed to stock more than 5 chickens per square
meter, or 1,500 per square meter. Now this is double the stocking rate
for free-range chickens however, this is because all organic chickens
have access to good pasture and stock rotation and rested pastures is
mandatory. There is no routine use of antibiotics and genetically
modified feed is not allowed. Organic feed is the only feed allowed,
and the welfare of the chickens is paramount.
Where farmers of other chickens resort
to forced molting and artificial lighting to increase egg production
organic farmers have to respect the cycle of the chicken and allow for
molting and downtime when the chicken is resting from her busy life as
an egg producer.
And while we are on the subject of
organic chickens versus other types of chickens don’t be lulled into a
sense of false security when it comes to buying meat chickens by the
names you see on the packaging. Corn-fed chickens just means that they
have a higher proportion of corn in their diets, but it also means that
there is a good chance that the corn that they are being fed has been
And if you see "chemical
being marketed, this means that when they are killed and washed they
are washed without the use of chlorine before being packaged, not that
they have been raised without chemicals!
So there you have it folks. The run
down on what kind of life your chickens have had before you eat them,
or are having while purchasing your eggs. For those of you who don't
have farms, small-holdings or a patch of earth for sustainable living,
you can still make a difference in the way food is being produced by
Don't buy caged-reared chickens or
eggs. You are only helping to perpetuate a situation that is really
quite appalling. Keeping chickens in your own backyard is cheap and
provides you the peace of mind where you know what your chickens have
been eating and how they have been kept.
A truly free-range, organic
chicken roaming amongst the flowers.
Don't Watch This Video if you are
Easily Shocked or Upset
showing the Life of Battery Hens
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