So, it is veganuary: the month where thousands of people take on the vegan diet for a month as a challenge for themselves. Some people go back to their normal way of eating after the month has ended and others decide to continue the vegan lifestyle, whether it’s just for a couple more months or for life. So, I thought now would be a good time as any to share this post, which I wrote back in the summer, as it was something which got me thinking -is there such a thing as cruelty-free eggs?
I’ve been dairy and egg free since the start of 2016, but 100% vegan for the last seven months (vegetarian for 10 years) and I can honestly say, it’s been incredible. As a vegetarian I ate copious amounts of dairy and eggs, so I thought giving them up would be a nightmare, but aside from the detox symptoms, it turned out to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever done and I haven’t looked back.
For me, eggs were actually the easiest food to give up when it came to meals. I think I had eaten that many of them throughout my vegetarian days that by the time I was contemplating veganism, I had been turned off eggs (for good it would seem). The smell, the texture, the hashtag #yolkporn, everything about them made me feel naseous. So, eliminating them from my diet was a breeze.
However, just yesterday, a family friend gave my family some chicken eggs, from her own laying hens and it got me thinking – could I eat these if I wanted to? I know it sounds crazy. I’m a vegan and vegans don’t eat animal products, but what if these animal products came from well looked after animals? Would it be OK then?
I’ve known this lady (who gave us the chicken eggs) for years, I’ve seen her chickens, I’ve photographed her chickens and I’ve also been chased by her chickens: she lives right next door to my Auntie and they share a plot of land in their gardens, where they keep said chickens. Now, this isn’t some tiny little back garden with plant pots and decking, this is proper land where there are – trees, wildflowers, wild garlic and herbs, plus a slow-running stream for them to drink from: the chickens are free to roam around all day eating whatever their little hearts fancy – it’s the garden of Eden for chickens and the true meaning of how a free-range chicken should live. When it comes to late afternoon, they are either put back into their chicken shed or they go voluntarily. I mean it’s heated; who wouldn’t want to run back in there.
So what’s the deal with eggs anyway? It’s not like they’re alive!
True. Just like every living thing, in order for a female to reproduce a male needed to fertilise the eggs. In the farming industry, reproduction is controlled by the farmers and so hens and cockerels are mostly kept apart until they are needed to breed.
The problem with eggs all starts when the chicks are born – they are first sexed and separated: males from females and depending on how healthy and strong the females are, they will go on to live a longer life ( 2 years as a caged) maybe in a barn, or as a free-range, or caged chicken. Although, this isn’t before they have their beaks trimmed (de-beaked) by using a hot blade and this is done without the use of anaesthesia (like having a nose job with out local anaesthesia) apparently this is necessary in order to stop the hens from pecking at each other, as well as to prevent cannibalism due to the lack of space they are forced to live in. This is all done by people who have the job title ‘chick sexer’ – a job which can earn someone a salary of around £40,000 a year.
To farmers, it’s the laying hens that are the most useful; they are the one’s who produce the eggs for humans to eat and when the time is right, they eventually produce more chickens to lay eggs and then the whole vicious cycle starts all over again. However, every hen has its day and when she stops producing eggs for human consumption or otherwise, she will be killed. It’s the same for all farm animals. If they can’t do their ‘job‘ or reproduce, then they are killed and made into animal food. Can you imagine if that were the same for women? I know I’d be screwed.
As for the males: they can’t lay eggs and since they have been bred from laying hens, they aren’t suitable for meat production either: they don’t grow fast enough – therefore they have no use in the farming industry and are killed very shortly after hatching. By law, newborn chicks are supposed to be culled as ‘humanely‘ as possible and in the U.K; this can either be done by high concentrated carbon monoxide gassing, or quick maceration: minced alive.
This is unavoidable.
Whether you buy your eggs from organic, caged or free range chickens, baby chicks will always get killed. It’s truly awful. What’s worse, is that these are considered humane ways to cull chicks in the U.K and are actually recommended by the R.S.P.C.A because it’s usually quick. In other countries there are many other cruel methods that aren’t as quick.
Of course there are other reasons and more obvious reasons why vegans choose not to eat eggs and it’s because of the way laying hens are treated. The conditions in which caged hens are submitted to are horrendous and in order for the chickens to keep laying mass amounts of eggs for human consumption, they are kept in cages, not even big enough to hold a rat, where they are left to rot in their own filth, never once seeing the light of day or even able to spread their wings.
What’s more, is that because laying hens are forced to produce so many eggs a year, the calcium in the eggs ends up coming from the chickens bones, meaning their bones become fragile and prone to fractures. If that’s not bad enough, they are also forced to molt, in order to keep producing mass amounts of eggs year around: this is done by starving the chickens on low-nutrient food, until they lose 30% of their body fat, then their normal diet is reinstated and concidently, egg production. It’s disgusting. To most people it’s just a chicken. To vegans: it’s an animal which is a sentient being – they feel pain, they get scared and they have memories.
Photo cred: upc-online.org and brighter green.org.
So, as a vegetarian I always bought free range eggs, I didn’t want to partake in the cruelty of caged hens and I thought that was enough. Since free range eggs have become available, we have all been led to believe that free range chickens are healthier and better taken care of than caged hens and to a point they are. But, whereas I always thought ‘Free Range’ chickens were allowed to roam around the fields all day, eating bugs and insects, with the wind in their feathers and the sun on their beaks; while laying eggs in the plush undergrowth – I was wrong. We are all wrong. Yes. Free range chickens do get let out of their barns to get some fresh air daily, but that’s not until they have laid their eggs crammed in a barn with other hens. Every farmer has different methods and ideas of ‘free range‘ too, the hens in the photo below, have access to an outside run and this is solely why their eggs are allowed to be sold as ‘free range‘. However, not all of these chickens will be strong enough to make it outside, so they may never see the light of day. It’s just the sad truth of how messed up the farming industry is and how many loop holes there are.
So, when you take all of that in to consideration and understand the cruelty that comes with purchasing eggs from a store, or farmer, then I really do think that a human can eat chicken eggs or other eggs, cruelty-free. However, there is a lot to take into consideration.
1.) Where did the chicken come from?
This isn’t a case of – what came first, the chicken or the egg? What I mean here is – where did you purchase the chicken from which you plan to raise? I know my auntie and her neighbour had some rescue chickens in their roost, which were initially battery hens and I know most people would feel this is the better option when raising their own chickens; as you’re giving the chicken a safe and secure home and if it lays eggs every once in a while, that’s ok too. What people don’t want is to put their money into something that could add cruelty to the lives of chickens, such as, purchasing them from a farm, chicken breeder, or anything connected to the farm industry. But then wouldn’t you be saving the chickens if you bought them straight from the source?
2.) Living Conditions
Obviously, the chickens are going to need excellent living conditions, where they are free to roam around safely and eat natural foods from the earth, with added chicken feed to give them any nutrients they may not get from their natural outdoor living. They would also need a lot of space to get exercise, with a place they could nest at night safely where predators couldn’t get to them.
I do believe that if chickens are raised correctly and given the best quality of life possible, by the person who is consuming the eggs, or a close family relative, or friend. In my opinion. If you have your own chickens then these are your ‘pets’ and your chickens won’t be laying eggs for mass production – they wont be de-beaked, starved, or forced to live in awful conditions and chick-culling won’t even be a thing. So, I do believe that cruelty free eggs are possible, just like the ones I recieved in the photos. Aslong as conditions are perfect and the animals are well loved and looked after.
I know the hardcore vegans will say, “what gives you the right to eat something that doesn’t belong to you”? “Its the chickens egg, not yours”! “Aren’t you still exploiting the chickens if you use their eggs?” Or something along those lines atleast. The short answer. Laying hens do exactly that, they lay eggs and they do it because it’s a natural thing for them to do; if they didn’t, then they would probably start suffering internally. When a chicken lays its egg, it is then left and discarded and unless the chicken has a calcium deficiency, it will not likely need it to eat, or survive. Plus, I think if you are feeding and looking after the chickens properly, they shouldnt lack any nutrients.
Now, depending on whether there has been a cockerel in the roost, those eggs will be edible and no death, or cruelty will have occurred and most importantly, they won’t be forced into molting in order to keep producing eggs to eat. However, when you remove a chickens egg, it will keep laying eggs and so in order to have ethical eggs, you would have to eat them sparingly. That said, eggs will rot and will eventually need to be removed anyway and with millions of starving kids in the world, wouldn’t that be wastage when you have the privilege of eating food you have helped raise? There’s also the fact that chickens stop laying eggs when they have a full nest, so what happens when they stop laying eggs for a cycle? You simply don’t eat eggs. Almost like, when you grow your own vegetables, you’re eating seasonally and it’s likely that you wouldn’t be eating Brussel sprouts in the summer.
As you can see, there are a multitude of questions that would go into raising ethical and cruelty-free eggs and the deeper you dig, the more questions you will raise. However, I still think that all chickens need saving and if you put the animal and its welfare at the top of your priorities and love and respect the chickens as you would a cat, or dog, then I don’t see anything wrong with raising a few chickens if you have the space and time for it.
I would just like to finish by saying, that I won’t be eating the eggs that I was given. I stand by what I said about eggs making me nauseous.
Now it’s your turn!
What are your views on producing cruelty free eggs? Do you believe it’s possible? If you’re a vegan, would you eat eggs from chickens you had raised yourself?
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