I am a former whistleblower who worked with Mercy For Animals. During my time undercover, I worked for Canadian egg barns.
The first egg barn I worked at was a pullet barn (pullets are young egg laying hens who have not yet started egg production). Baby chicks would live at the pullet farm from approx. 0-24 weeks, until they were ready to start egg production. Hatchery trucks would show up with crates of newly-hatched, day-old, de-beaked chicks; they would be unloaded off the trucks and transferred directly to battery cages. The chicks were so tiny we had to lay out newspaper over the bottom of the cages so they wouldn’t get caught in the wire, and each cage was stocked with about 45 chicks in each cage.
I remember how heartbreaking it felt to put these chicks into barren cages, where they would spend their entire, miserable lives. The chicks did not know what to make of these strange, foreign environments and many got tangled in the cage wire. Every day I walked the barns, I found birds trapped or mangled in the cage wire, or painfully run over by automatic feeders’ setup in the barn. Since the softest place to sleep in the cage was on top of the feed, many of these babies fell asleep in the feed troughs, and then got run over by the automatic feeders which moved up and down the barns. Some died instantly, and others had to be euthanized because they were mangled from being run over by the heavy factory equipment.
After the chicks were put into cages, mortality spiked for the first week. Over a 3-day period, I counted over 1,000 dead baby chicks.
Death did not come quickly, or painlessly, though. Careless farm workers smashed the heads of sick and injured chicks against hard objects to kill them; they used whatever surface was available, from buckets to feed troughs. Many times, this was done ineffectively and did not kill the chicks, it only mangled them. Sometimes, they were thrown into garbage bags to die while they were still alive and suffering. If the chicks were not killed properly, they would be thrown into an incinerator on the farm to slowly and painfully burn to death.
In one instance, I noticed the supervisor hadn’t correctly killed a chick. I immediately pointed this out to him, and then went to go do a job in another barn. When I got back I found out the chicks he was working with had been taken to the incinerator. I asked him if he had properly killed the chick and he just shrugged. The peeping of that chick still haunts me to this day, because I feel she was most likely thrown alive into the incinerator.
As the birds grew, we separated them into cages with fewer numbers, so eventually each cage was stocked with about 7-8 birds, which is standard in the egg industry. Each hen would have no more than a regular size piece of paper to live out her entire life. As someone who had always felt a deep connection with animals and had done rescue work with battery hens before becoming a whistleblower, it felt truly awful to be in these environments, witnessing so much suffering and cruelty on a daily basis.
Occasionally, chicks daringly escape their cages and have a chance to stretch their limbs; they would run around on the barn floors, sometimes in packs of 2 or 3. I would see them scurrying together across the barns, running as fast as they could – for a few moments, maybe they felt free. Eventually, workers caught them and put them back into cages, where there was no space to run around. As the chicks grew, the space in their cages shrunk, until there was barely enough room to stretch their wings.
While working at this egg barn, there was a pre-announced inspection by the provincial egg board. I watched as the inspector walked through a barn of 100,000 chicks in less than 10 minutes and then walked into the office to tell jokes with the barn staff.
After about a month of working in the pullet barn, it was time to say goodbye. I remember walking out of the pullet barn and looking back at the hens in cages one last time; I felt a profound sense of sadness that this would be their lives and everything they would ever know. They would never be free; they would never get a chance to feel the sun, walk on grass, be loved, or enjoy life; they were stuck in windowless barns, crammed into cages with no stimulation. When their egg production declined, they would be ripped out of their cages, crammed into transport crates, and mercilessly killed.
In nature, mother hens will sit on eggs until they hatch; she will even sing songs to her unborn chicks. When they hatch, she keeps them close under her wings and protects them. However, that is totally the opposite experience of chicks raised for the commercial egg industry, where they are treated as mere egg-producing machines.
Please, don’t support this animal abuse; the only chance to free hens and other animals from the inherent cruelty of the animal agricultural industry is for people to adopt a compassionate vegan diet. With so many amazing products and support groups available, it’s never been easier to be vegan. Your health, the environment, and most of all the animals, will thank you.