|The following was anonymously sent to EON (Environmental
Organizers' Network) along with numerous photographs
depicting what is described below. It was submitted by EON into the
Wesleyan's progressive magazine. It is a true personal account of
an individual's repeated visits to a Connecticut egg farm.
"Inside the Battery Shed"
The first visit...
We went in the other night, through the manure pit door. We had
to step over a dead hen in the doorway. It was Shed 7 based on our
counting. We quickly changed our clothes and boots in order to maintain
biosecurity. (Such measures were necessary because the stress from
living in overcrowded, dirty conditions impairs the immune systems of battery
hens making them very susceptible to disease. Furthermore, the overcrowding
of the hens encourages the spread of contagious diseases, so it is important
that every one who enters the shed be free of contaminants).
Immediately I was surprised to see a number of hens resting atop the
huge piles of shit. A part of me was glad for them, those free from
cages, but also sad. I knew that they would soon die of thirst.
There is no water to drink in the manure pit. Before entering I thought
we would be heading straight up top, in a hurry to see the infamous battery
cages; I was struck by how much there was to see below. Live hens,
dead hens, and demolished hens. There was at least one bird smashed
to smithereens with head off, legs off, feathers lightly spread.
I cannot imagine what could have caused such violent destruction, but I
hope she was dead before the deconstruction of her body. We tried
to record the cruelty, the haunting atmosphere. I took many photos,
but I know that only a visit can portray accurately the battery cage shed.
We climbed the ladder up, getting dust on ourselves, and there we were
staring at the battery cages. There were cages upon cages, upon cages,
upon cages. Stacked four high with six rows with cages on either
side of a row. Later we counted 381 cages in a length, making 18,288
cages per shed. The average seemed to be five hens per cage, making
91,440 hens per shed. 13 sheds means over one million hens at the
farm. The cages were measured roughly 16 inches wide, 21 inches deep
and 18 inches high. 2.33 ft2 for the hens to share. No room
to flap wings.
I was shocked by the amount of defeathering. Some of these birds
were naked, with highly irritated skin. The feathers they did have
were hard and brittle. So dry, but everything in there was.
(At the time I had never held a healthy chicken. I have since had
the opportunity; the difference is startling.)
The hens can sense tension, so we took every effort to remain calm.
They did not react to flash photography, or mind me measuring their cages.
We walked the whole length of the massive shed. At the front we came
to all the egg collecting machinery. I wondered, how much human involvement
At the front we found a mortality chart: 70 hens died in that shed alone
that day. Multiply this by 13 sheds on the farm. That is a
lot for one farm, but with over a million there, what are a few hundred
dead ones to them? We continued observing and investigating, and
eventually made our way back to the rear of the shed. There in a
corner we found a barrel half full of dead hens.
Surrounded by all this death, suffering, and blatant cruelty you would
expect, you would hope one would be in tears, and by the end my companion
was, but for myself those feeling were forcibly put aside. The conditions
were so horrible, how can one be compassionate and walk around in there?
Tears come more easily now in reflection than while inside. It is
just too overwhelming. With almost a hundred thousand hens in that
shed alone it is hard to realize their individuality. I got the feeling
inside that I wanted to liberate them all, every last hen. For most
of the birds it is too late. Their feathers fell off long ago, and
have never known a freedom they could even dream of. The struggle
is more personal than ever. I will keep going back, keep investigating,
keep liberating until battery cages are banned, an antiquated horror.
One week later...
We went in again the other night, same shed, same routine. I
thought that since I had done it once already it would be nothing, I was
prepared. I could not have imagined the conditions would be so much
worse in just one week. The half a barrel of dead hens had exploded
to three full ones next to a huge pile of dead hens. There were as
many as six or seven dead hens lying in one aisle. I could not believe
there were even more: a few milk crates full and more barrels at the far
end. Dead hens were left in cages too. I was shocked by it
all. And the live hens had no feathers at all. How could it
have gotten so much worse?
There were flies swarming around us at times, and rats, dead and alive.
With so many dead hens around, flies and rats are not too surprising, neither
is disease. It is as if the farm management was mocking our careful
efforts to for biosecurity with their complete disregard for keeping out
potential contagions. The time we spent in there went by so quickly
as we tried to record the horrible conditions. We spent so little
time paying attention to the hens in cages because everything else was
so bad. I cannot stress enough how much worse everything was than
in my last entry.
We helped a hen free herself from being stuck in the bars her cage,
allowing her access for food and water again. Helping that one hen
helps me deal with the lingering reek of chicken shit that the laundry
could not eliminate.
One and one half weeks later...
Last night we went back to the farm, the factory farm. We headed
straight to "Shed 7," again through the manure pits. Immediately
we were hit by the smell and saw the familiar piles of shit. Then
my friend looked up and exclaimed, "The chickens are all gone." There
were no more chickens. To be exact, there were still some around
on the manure. I went over to one and she just sat in the corner
near a pile of snow as I approached. I picked her up and realized
why she had not moved. She was sitting on an egg. After all
that time in a cage in which her eggs would roll away from her she still
wanted to sit on her laid egg.
We then climbed the ladder upstairs. At once I was glad I had
a dust mask, as there was so much ammonia it was difficult to breathe.
We moved quickly, but stopped many times to photograph rotting hens in
cages. We recorded as many as we could, but eventually we had to
move on; the ammonia was too strong. The hens that remained decomposing
in the cages were in a state I was hardly prepared for. Thinking
of it now brings back the indescribable smell of the sheds. We made
haste back down. I never thought I would find the air in a manure
pit so refreshing.
We went to another shed. The chickens were in better shape here
than in "Shed 7," but the cages were so full: up to ten in a cage!
The hens were already suffering from feather loss. Ten hens will
not last long in a cage so small. The nature of the cycle became
clear to me: fill the cages with ten hens and then once half of them have
died empty the shed and start over again.
We then went to another shed. This shed was further along in the
cycle. Greater numbers were dying each day according to the mortality
charts. There was more feather loss. Dead hens in cages, even
an extremely decomposed hen in a cage being sat upon by the remaining hens.
It was all so draining; it wears on you. A couple of hours inside
was as much as we could handle, and we left on edge. I cannot imagine
what it takes to work there, or rather what you would have to lose.
I left eager to share my experience, to share my newfound knowledge.
I had no comprehension of what the conditions for hens were like before
our investigation. Even now, I still cannot begin to imagine what
life would be like being spent entirely in a battery cage.