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Chickens in the Egg Industry

Layer Hens - Cage Eggs

Cage eggs are eggs that have been laid by hens living in tiny wire cages.  These 'layer' hens are also known as 'battery' hens because they live in cages arranged in a 'battery' format in long rows stacked on top of each other, so that hundreds of thousands of birds can be housed in a single building. The hens live with several other birds in the one cage, which means each hen spends her entire life in an area no bigger than an A4 sized sheet of paper, without room to stretch or spread her wings. The hens are unable to engage in other natural behaviours such as wing flapping, scratching, dust bathing, perching or foraging. Due to the cramped conditions hens can sometimes resort to pecking at each other and can do considerable damage. The industry's 'solution' to this problem is to 'trim' the birds' beaks (usually the upper beak) by removing it with a hot blade, a laser, or infrared technology. According to the RSPCA: 'Beak trimming can result in birds developing neuromas (bundled nerve endings) at the tip of their beak which makes eating very painful. This is a chronic condition that cannot be overcome.'

Debeaked hen

A rescued debeaked battery hen (T Ward, 2009)

Battery hens also suffer from defeathering due to rubbing on the wire in their cages and from severe foot problems because of the wire mesh they live on for their entire lives. When workers at battery facilities remove sick, injured or dead birds from the cages, other birds are sometimes released from their cages and end up falling into the vast pit below the cages where the manure from the cages drops down. Although producers are supposed to ensure that such birds are recaptured, many of these birds remain in the manure pit until they die of hunger or thirst, or of the injuries they sustained while they were in the cages above.

At around 18 months old the hens start to produce fewer eggs. The industry considers these 'spent' hens to be no longer productive, so they are pulled from their cages, stuffed into crates and sent to the slaughterhouse. Due to rough handling, many birds suffer broken bones and suffocation or even die as a result of the removal process.

Layer Hens - Other Housing Systems

Although the battery cage is generally considered to be the most cruel way of housing egg-laying hens, other housing systems for layer hens are often no less inhumane in practice. Both overcrowding and beak trimming (to prevent hens from injuring each other) are  practised in commercial barn and free range housing systems as well as in the battery cage system. Irrespective of the housing system, commercial egg-laying hens are stuffed into crates at 15-18 months of age and transported often long distances for slaughter.


Barn system. Photo by Animal Liberation Victoria

Male chicks in the egg industry

Layer hens are not the only ones who suffer from this horrific industry. Humans have not yet learnt how to predetermine the sex of chickens born in the egg industry. As male chickens do not lay eggs, the egg industry considers them to be 'waste' products. They are therefore discarded soon after they are born, which means that millions of male chicks are ground up or gassed alive each year in Australia. This mass killing of male chicks is a part of all egg production systems, including free range, organic, and battery cage systems. For more information please see

Egg production in the ACT

The ACT has one very large egg factory, known as Parkwood Eggs, which is owned by Pace Farm. Up until 2012 the factory produced cage eggs, with up to 200,000 hens living in tiny wire cages in numerous sheds. Animal Liberation ACT has been campaigning to ban battery cages in the ACT since 1995.  Of particular concern to Animal Liberation ACT has been the number of hens left sick and dying in the large pits of manure underneath the cages in the Parkwood factory. Over the years hundreds of these birds have been rescued and taken to veterinarians by concerned citizens. Another matter of particular concern in the ACT is the great distance the 'spent' hens have to be transported from the Parkwood factory to slaughter in Victoria. 

In 2008 an investigation exposed the cruelty behind this ACT battery egg factory.  See here for footage showing the removal of 'spent' hens from their cages and their transportation to slaughter from the ACT,  and hens left behind in the manure pits.


Production of cage eggs at Parkwood Eggs in the ACT 

Attempts to ban the battery cage in the ACT

No fewer than four bills to ban the battery cage in the Australian Capital Territory have been tabled by ACT Greens Members of the Legislative Assembly. The first bill was tabled in 1997, and would also have banned the sale of battery eggs in the ACT. This first bill was actually passed by a majority in the ACT Legislative Assembly, although opposed by the minority government at the time. It has never commenced because the ban on the production of battery eggs could not be implemented until the ban on the sale of battery eggs was implemented, and the ban on the sale required the agreement of all other states and territories and the Commonwealth. Although no other jurisdiction was in any way adversely affected by the ACT legislation, all other jurisdictions refused the ACT's right to have the animal welfare standards the Territory’s citizens demanded. It is assumed the other governments did this because they did not want one jurisdiction to set a precedent.

The next two attempts to ban the battery cage (the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2007 and the Eggs (Cage Systems) Legislation Amendment Bill 2009) were defeated by the ACT Labor and Liberal parties. The most recent bill (the Animal Welfare Legislation (Factory Farming) Amendment Bill 2012) was tabled in the Assembly on 28 March 2012 and at the time of writing is awaiting debate.

In July 2012 the ACT Government announced it had reached an agreement with Pace Farm to end the production of cage eggs in the ACT at the Parkwood factory. Disappointingly, the agreement simply involves changing from one intensive egg production system to another. Under the agreement the Parkwood facility will switch to producing barn eggs – so Parkwood’s hens will now live in one big cage, and will still be stuffed into crates and transported long distances for slaughter when no longer producing a profitable number of eggs.

Despite the agreement with Pace Farm, the ACT Government has made no commitment to ban the battery cage in law. See here for Animal Liberation ACT’s call for the Government to pass legislation banning the cage.

While the fight to ban the battery cage in the ACT continues, the ACT has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to require the production system of eggs to be clearly displayed on egg packaging and retail display. From 1 January 2010, eggs produced in a battery egg factory must be labeled as 'cage eggs', and must be displayed in retail outlets with a sign stating 'THESE ARE CAGE EGGS. Birds are continuously housed in cages within a shed'. There are similar requirements for barn and free-range eggs (sections 5-7B of the Eggs (Labelling and Sale) Act 2001 (ACT)).

Rescued battery hens dustbathing near Canberra (T Ward, 2012)



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