Battery cages, cramped spaces, no sunlight, and incessant egg production. That’s all Lolly the hen knew in her early years. She was born into the factory farm life, where if she’d been a male, she’d have been killed immediately, possibly sent through a grinder.
Instead, she was debeaked and had her toes clipped to keep her from pecking herself or others in her tight, roughly 8”-by-11” space within her battery cage. Her life would have come to an end when her egg production started decreasing, around two years of age. Well cared for, that lifespan could be 10 to 15 years. Fortunately for her, she was given a chance at that more natural lifespan when she was rescued along with 23 of her fellow factory farmed hens and taken to Farm Animal Refuge.
Matt Lieurance, the refuge’s co-founder, says, “Lolly came to us after being at a battery cage egg facility at two-and-a-half years old, which is the typical slaughter age for birds used to produce eggs. Their first time outside was amazing to watch, and one of the first things they did was lay with their wings spread out in the sun and dust bathing, two things they had never been able to do before. She originally was rescued with 23 other hens, but sadly, we have lost all but three girls, mostly due to the reproductive issues they develop because of the genetic modifications humans have done to them to produce an unnatural amount of eggs.”
The Humane League, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the abuse of animals raised for food, says that in the wild, hens would typically produce somewhere around an egg a month. Today’s commercial hens have been genetically modified to produce more, closer to an egg per day. Even at the turn of the last century, egg laying hens were only producing around two per week.
Hens like Lolly produce all these eggs without any space to spread their wings and with their feet constantly on wire mesh floors. Their egg production is also boosted through forced molting. Molting is when a chicken sheds their current feathers and grows new ones.
In nature, this process can take months to complete, and egg production will drop sharply at this time as the body focuses on feather regrowth. For factory farmed hens, their environment is changed and they’re deprived of nutrients for between seven and 14 days to force the process and ultimately get even more eggs out of them.
Possibly due to this rough background, Lolly and her friends needed some time to adjust to their new, freer surroundings at Farm Animal Refuge.
Lieurance says, “Bringing Lolly to Farm Animal Refuge was such a powerful experience. It was the first time that she ever experienced dirt, the first time she ever experienced the breeze through her feathers. She did take a little bit of a time to kind of come out of her shell and to really become comfortable because she didn’t know what was next. She spent her entire life watching the chickens around her disappear and never come back, and she didn’t know if that was going to happen to her or to any of the other chickens that she came with. After a few weeks, she realized she was safe, she was home, and she was loved, and she really started coming out of her shell and showing us the curious, fun, loving chicken that she really is.”
He says Lolly is a bit of a goofball and pretty big on her snacks. If she thinks someone has food, she’ll peck away at their hands and feet, and she’s always the first out for breakfast when it’s served at sunrise. This hungry girl never misses a meal. She’s also very fond of the resident rooster named Sonny.
Lieurance says that the birds in the refuge tend to have the hardest time accepting human companionship, so they give them as much space as they want but will give them affection when they come for it. The chickens spend their days free to choose their own activities, like pecking the ground in search of grubs and worms, bathing in the dirt, feeling the breeze and the sun, drinking fresh water, and enjoying the companionship of their bird friends.
The refuge staff is happy to see these animals get a second chance like this, as people don’t often realize how much life is in hens.
Lieurance says, “Chickens and all birds used in the animal agriculture industry are no different than the companion animals we spend our lives with and should be treated the same and given the same respect. Humans have created these breeds to provide a product which has left their bodies broken and unable to support a long and happy life. These birds love spending their days in the sun with their friends feeling the wind in their feathers. They are curious, emotional and intelligent and deserve to be provided a space to express these behaviors and live free from exploitation.”
Along with other animal welfare organizations, The Humane League has long worked to decrease the use of battery cages in egg production. Vicky Bond, the organization’s president, says when they started corporate cage-free campaigns in 2015, only 5% of egg-laying flocks in the United States were cage-free. Today, that number is up to nearly 40%. The work continues, though, as they pressure big companies who have pledged to source cage-free eggs to show how they plan to do so.
The organization is also working on a campaign to get Jollibee, which they say uses an estimated 586 million eggs each year, to go cage-free.
Bond says, “Cages cause hens intense psychological and physiological suffering. The Welfare Footprint Project looked into the amount of suffering that a hen is spared by removing her from a cage and found a reduction of over 7,000 hours of pain (291 days). Eliminating cages significantly improves the well-being of the hens raised in supply chains.”
For those who want to help ensure hens like Lolly don’t experience as much suffering, Bond says joining The Humane League’s Fast Action Network is one way to get started. The network helps influence the policies of large companies involved in factory farming. She also says reducing egg, dairy, and meat consumption can have a big impact.
To see more of Lolly’s story, watch the video from The Humane League below!Whizzco