Up to 16,000 hens are crammed onto shelves in sheds with the end of their beaks cut off and male chicks gassed at just a DAY old
Thousands of hens are crammed on to shelves, clambering over each other, hardly ever seeing daylight and with their beak ends cut off. But these are the lucky ones. Others have their beaks trimmed at a day old.
It’s a vision that might explain why so many people opt for free range eggs rather than those from battery farmed hens . But brace yourself. For these ARE free range hens. Sheds can contain up to nine birds per square metre – like putting 14 people in a one-bed flat.
Many have their beaks pierced by infra-red laser at a day old and in a fortnight the end will drop off. It’s to prevent the hens harming each other. A healthy bird makes more profit. No anaesthetic is used but the UK industry continues to use the method even though many countries are phasing it out. A hot knife severed the beak until the laser was introduced.
They are typically only allowed to live for 72 weeks, after their egg-laying prime. Male chicks are gassed at a day old.
A shedful of 16,000 free range hens must have outdoor space – 10,000 square metres, about one-and-a-half football pitches. But there are no rules about how often the birds go outside. Many NEVER do because they are so hemmed in. Now a farmer has broken ranks with other free range egg producers to expose conditions he describes as “the equivalent of high-rise urban living for hens”.
Around half of the £1billion-worth of eggs sold are free range. Even McDonald’s has phased out battery hens’ eggs in response to customer demand.
Myles Thomas, chairman of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, told industry mag The Ranger that multi-tier sheds are more efficient. Eggs from his Shropshire farm, TC Thomas & Son, go to Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Aldi. His three multi-tier sheds house 48,000 hens.
Mr Thomas refused to talk to the Sunday Mirror but his association said in a statement: “Regardless of the housing system, the same high welfare standards are applied.
“All birds have access to the range, food, water and space to move around in.”
His vice-chairman, James Baxter, produces Happy Eggs for Noble Foods and uses four multi-tier sheds each housing 16,000 birds at his farm in Stranraer. He also refused to talk but previously told Farmers Weekly the system meant smaller sheds and lower feed costs while still allowing the hens room to move.
Farmers claim the birds can move between the layers while holes allow access to the range. But critics say the sheer volume of birds mean many never make it outside. There are fears hens could suffer further in Government moves to let the poultryindustry self-regulate from next month.