History / Workers' Rights / Environment / Human Health / Agribusiness / Hens / Another Way

The Birth of Factory Egg Farming...

After news of the success on the meat side of factory chicken prouction had spread to egg producers they tried the same methods of debeaking, automation, and close confinement.  "But one major problem literally piled up: the confined, egg-laying hens produced tons of manure each week.  Broiler ('meat' chickens) producers had had the manure problem in their large flocks too, but their birds were in and out within tewlve weeks and accumulating could be cleaned out between 'crops.'  Egg farmers, however, kept their birds indoors for a year or more and thus had to find a means of manure removal that would not disturb the hens or interfere with production.  Producers discovered that they could confine layer hens in wire-mesh cages suspended over a trench to collect droppings.  The manure pile could be cleaned out without bothering the hens above.  At first, producers placed their birds one to each cage.  When they found that birds were cheaper than wire and buildings, crowded cages in crowded houses became the rule.  Crowding did mean that more hens died, but this cost was slight compared to the increased total egg output.  Ever since, the Egg has come before the Chicken, and eggs - and chickens - have never been the same" (Mason, Jim and Singer, Peter, Animal Factories (rev. ed.), New York: NY: Harmony Books, 1990, p. 3). 

"Nor have chicken farms.  Between 1955 and 1975 flock size in a typical egg factory rose from twenty thousand to eighty thousand birds per house as production learned to stuff and stack the cages.  Just as the cage brought a Brave New World for laying chickens, it brought the end of an era for family farmers.  The automation of feeding, collecting, and removing wastes made human labor and thousands of family egg farms obsolete.  And it did so quietly and quickly.  In 1967, 44 percent of commercial layers were in cages; by 1978, 90 percent were in cages" (Animal Factories, p. 3). 

"Historically, the chicken industry began in New England, but has preferred to raise and slaughter chickens in the south, where, in addition to the warm weather, there is little or no union activity, a large undereducated rural population, few or no environmental regulations, and a receptive political climate" (Davis, Karen, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Company, 1996, p.  18). 

Today, 98 percent of all egg production comes from cages birds in automated factory buildings.