(August 19, 2005) — In response to the article
"Chicken-cruelty charge and video rebuffed by execs, others," (Democrat
and Chronicle, July 2): egg industry people often claim that hens don't
mind living and laying their eggs in wire cages, but this claim has more
to do with assuaging the public than setting the record straight. In
reality, ample science shows why chickens do not do "perfectly well'' in
Chickens' feet and legs contain complex joints including
many small bones, ligaments, cartilage pads, tendons and muscles that
enable them to search and scratch for food on land. Wild chickens (the Red
Jungle Fowl of Southeast Asia, from which all chickens derive) and feral
chickens (domesticated chickens that revert to living free) spend half to
90 percent of their time foraging, making up to 15,000 pecks a day.
But it isn't just wild and feral chickens. As biologist
Marian Stamp Dawkins writes in her book Through Our Eyes Only?: "An
ancestral memory of this way of life seems to have carried down the
generations into the cages of our modern intensive farms so that even
highly domesticated breeds have the same drive to scratch away to get
Based on experiments, Dawkins explains that if hens kept
all their lives on wire floors are suddenly given access to a floor of
wood-shavings or peat, they have "an immediate and strong preference for
these more natural floors over the wire ones. ... They dustbathe, eat
particles of peat and scratch with their feet. It is not just the extra
comfort afforded by a soft floor that attracts them, but all the behavior
they can do there as well.''
By contrast, when hens are forced to stand and sit on wire
mesh, their feet can become sore, cracked and deformed. The hen's claws,
which are designed to scratch vigorously, and thus stay short and blunt,
become long, thin, twisted and broken. They can curl around the wire floor
and entrap the hen, causing her to starve to death inches from her food
The overriding issue is that hens are birds with behavior
patterns that have no outlet in a cage. And it isn't just animal advocates
who point this out.
Concerning battery cages for hens, Dr. Lesley Rogers
writes in her book, The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken:
"In no way can these living conditions meet the demands of a complex
nervous system designed to form a multitude of memories and to make
Chickens need to be cage-free.
Davis is the founder and president of United Poultry
Concerns, based in Machipongo, Va.
Go on to On 'Painism'
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