Here’s What Farms Do To Hens Who Are Too Old To Lay Eggs

Do we eat the chickens that lay our eggs? It’s not a dumb question to ask, and the answer might surprise you.

Unless you’ve raised backyard chickens, we’re willing to bet that the average egg consumer doesn’t know that hens stop laying eggs pretty early on in their lives. Chickens live eight years on average, but hens only productively lay eggs in the first two, maybe three years of their lives. And on the commercial level, it’s closer to two years, and sometimes less.

When hens are productively laying eggs, they’ll lay one egg about every 22 hours. As they get older, this becomes less and less frequent. So when you’re a commercial egg farmer, what do you do with the thousands of hens taking up barn space that aren’t really laying eggs anymore?

Jesse Laflamme, CEO of Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs (which raises certified humane eggs from small family farms), explained one way that non-humane egg factories deal with the situation.

“What typically happens is they just gas them with CO2, and asphyxiate them. Then they put them into trucks or dumpsters and they’re landfilled, or they render them,” Laflamme told HuffPost. Laflamme said he couldn’t speak to what exactly happens when the chickens are rendered, but that it’s basically “where they turn the hens into oils and other products that are used in various industries.”

This sounds horrific, but Matt O’Hayer, CEO of Vital Farms (which also raises certified humane eggs) and a long-time vegetarian, said he thinks it’s actually one of the more humane ways currently used to deal with this problem. “If you euthanize them on the farm at night, their life is over quickly,” he said.

Another common solution to the problem of “spent hens,” as they’re called in the industry, is to turn them into pet food. O’Hayer says it’s the most common solution, but not a very humane one. 

“If you send them to a pet food plant, which is the biggest use of spent hens, they pack them into crates and ship them in trucks hundreds of miles. It’s stressful for them and it’s not very humane,” O’Hayer said.

But O’Hayer said that this is sometimes the solution for his hens at Vital Farms. “Most of our flocks are sold live by our family farmers to local families or to pet food companies,” he explained. “In the rare instance in which a flock must be depopulated on-farm, contractors are employed by the farmer, who typically use CO2, which is currently the most humane…

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