What is a Battery Cage?

Battery cages are considered cruel and tortuous and should be banned

Hens in battery cages
Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

In an article published in the Huffington Post, writer and longtime animal rights activist Bruce Friedrich points out that of all the factory farmed animals, chickens may have it the worst because they suffer in battery cages. United Poultry Concerns define battery cages as wire cages for egg-laying hens, usually about 18 by 20 inches, with up to 11 birds inside. Each bird in a battery cage has an area smaller than a standard 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper. A single bird has a wingspan of 32 inches, and lives her entire life never being able to spread her wings. Cages are stacked in rows on top of each other, so that hundreds of thousands of birds can be housed in a single building. The wire floors are sloped so that the eggs roll out of the cages. The birds are denied their natural behaviors such as nesting and dustbathing. Because feeding and watering is sometimes automated, human oversight and contact are minimal. Birds fall out of cages, get stuck between cages, or get their heads or limbs stuck between the bars of their cages, and die because they cannot access food and water.

The torture of these sentient creatures is outlined a report entitled An HSUS Report: A Comparison of the Welfare of Hens in Battery Cages and Allternative Systems.

In 2015, The Humane Society of the United States announced that some restaurants, including McDonalds, Nestle, and Burger King have agreed to stop buying eggs and chickens from farms where chickens are kept in a battery cage.  The HSUS referred to this agreement as a “watershed moment” and are claiming victory in the battle for more humane manners of keeping factory-farmed animals.

Some animal advocates support cage-free eggs, but many activists advocate a plant-based diet because even cage-free eggs are cruel and exploitative, no matter how well the chickens are treated. Exploited animals kept and killed for human consumption can never be tolerated no matter how well the animals are treated.

The HSUS counters this argument by pointing out that fast food restaurants purchase over two billion eggs every year. These eggs are harvested from chickens living in battery cages. With this change, millions of chickens will be freed from the horror of battery cages. As they put it: “These eight million animals will be able to walk inside a barn, spread their wings, perch, lay their eggs in nests, and engage in other important natural behaviors denied to caged hens.”

But this victory is not celebrated by all. Many activists feel that by celebrating these changes, they are tacitly condoning the very idea of animals being kept for human consumption. Activists and activist organizations such as Compassion over Killing are more concerned with stopping the consumption of animals and animal products, not making life better for the animals. Their undercover investigations and promotion of restaurants such as Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts for their vegan offerings is their modus operandi. Education is a priority for COK and to that end they encourage pledges to go vegetarian, vegetarian festivals, educational videos and Meatless Mondays  as being more effective campaigns in saving animals on factory farms by converting carnivores to vegans.

United Poultry Concerns founder and director Karen Davis is concerned that the words "free range" and "cage free" suggest that the animals are living in wide, open spaces as opposed to battery cages. But these words are decieving because the animals are, in fact, still in crowded and inhumane conditions and their slaughter is particularly barbaric. She is dedicated to getting chickens and hens off America's menus altogether. They have decreed May 4th as International Respect for Chickens Day and are asking supporters to "Please do an action for chickens in May!" Some of the actions Davis suggest include leafletting on a corner, calling in a radio show, ordering posters, brochures and other educational kits and merchandise from their website