Life Is Hell for Most Egg-Laying Chickens in the U.S. - but the Growing Cage-Free Movement Is Changing That

There’s a warehouse in the middle of nowhere you’ve only heard about in whispers. Strange noises emanate from it. The neighbors complain of its stench, which permeates their homes. Skull and crossbones signs line the property warning passersby not to enter.


One day, you turn on the news and see a whistleblower has come forward with footage of what’s going on inside. You’re shocked by the conditions.

Cages upon cages are stacked on top of each other, all filled with birds. You look closely and realize that they are robins. Yes, the same birds we see on the lawns of our homes who just want to walk around to peck into the grass to find food.

These poor robins, however, are packed so tightly they’re hunched over at all times, barely able to move. They eat, sleep and defecate in the same spot every day of their lives. The conditions are so extreme that robins are forced to live in the cages with dead cage mates, decomposing because there are too many animals for a worker to possibly check which ones have passed.

These robins will never know what it’s like to flap their wings, feel the earth under their feet or the sun on their back. The inside of their cage is the only life they’ll ever have. No matter how much they struggle, they’ll never be freed.

Tears fall down your cheeks. Your heart breaks. But then, you slowly open your eyes, take a deep breath and begin to wake up. You realize this nightmare didn’t happen to these robins. They weren’t treated in this cruel manner. None of them were forced to suffer that unbearable fate.

But by waking up, you’re faced with the reality that this story reflects the everyday life for hundreds of millions of other birds in our country; specifically for chickens in egg production.

Virtually all eggs sold on our grocery store shelves come from places like this terrifying warehouse. It’s been the standard production method for decades. These chickens, like the birds and other wildlife we see around our homes or the pets with have in them, have the ability to feel pain and suffer. They have the same spark of life we see in a robin, eagle, dog, cat or any other animal. Yet far too often the chickens are treated like egg-producing, inanimate objects.  

Fortunately there’s a growing movement in our country, led by consumer outrage, to change how our nation’s chickens are treated. Major egg buyers from national restaurant chains and grocery stores, to food makers and food service companies are going “cage-free” in their egg purchasing, shifting to sourcing eggs from chickens free from cages with the ability to walk around a barn. While not utopian conditions, the chickens are at least able to perch, dust bathe, scratch and lay eggs in a nesting box, vital natural behaviors previously denied to them in a cage.

These corporate policies have been enacted at such a rapid rate in recent months that it’s likely we won’t see another caged egg-laying chicken in our country in another nine years or so. Our nation’s nightmarish treatment of these birds is slowly changing. We’re taking steps to live up to a value so many of us hold dear: all animals, whether they’re eating at our bird feeders or relegated to life in food production, deserve to be treated with basic decency.

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