It’s true that eating eggs from backyard hens is almost certainly better for the animals than eating eggs from caged hens. But whether the birds have a good life depends on whether they have space to roam, roost, dustbathe, nest and scratch in the earth, and whether they are adequately protected from predators. Achieving high welfare for chickens is not easy. And, of course, they will need to be cared for even after they stop laying eggs. It should be remembered that looking after birds can involve costly veterinary bills and so keeping hens well may not mean a cheap source of eggs after all.
Laying an egg every day is not natural – birds have been selectively bred to do this – and there is a real cost to the birds’ welfare in doing this. Each egg shell consists of 90-95 percent calcium carbonate,1 which means a lot of calcium is needed and it is taken directly from the birds’ bones. This raises the risk of brittle bones or osteoporosis, although some of the nutrients can be returned to the birds if they are given their own eggs to eat.
But if the birds are kept well, and they don’t want the eggs, what harm does it do if a person eats them? Well, it doesn’t do any harm to the bird, of course, but vegans don’t eat animal products, and we don’t need to. All the nutrients we need are available from plants, and all the treats we could ever want can be baked egg-free. There is no need to give the impression that we struggle so badly that we keep our own hens just so we can have an egg or two. After all, it is unlikely that anyone would be so desperate for dairy that they would rescue a pregnant cow just so they could have some milk for the duration that she was still producing it!
Of course, we would encourage people to give a home to hens rescued from the egg industry just as we would encourage them to rescue other animals in need – but shouldn’t we do that without wanting something in return?
As for what to do with their eggs, if there are some left over after the birds have eaten some, it is possible to feed them to companion animals or to give them to neighbors in order to reduce the number of eggs they buy from commercially incarcerated flocks.
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