Reasons to Go Vegan #15: "Free Range"
"Free Range"

A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.

          —Leo Tolstoy
Free-Range Henhouse

Ridden with disease, manure, ammoniated urine and cruelty.
"Free-range" Eggs

Consider the lives of "free-range" hens. "Free-range" egg producers generally purchase layer hens from the same hatcheries as traditional egg producers. Half of the chicks born in the hatcheries are males who are "disposed of" often in cruel ways, including being thrown live into machines that grind their bodies up or into trash bags and/or large dumpsters where they either starve or suffocate to death. Further, since "layer hens" typically are not sufficiently productive after two years, they are sent to slaughter at that time. The "free-range" egg industry relies heavily on the routine mass-slaughter of animals to be economically feasible.

The lives of "free-range" layer hens before slaughter are generally a living hell. The "free-range" egg label means only that the birds are permitted some access outdoors, even if it is only a miniscule fraction of the space of the large shed in which they live. Because of intensive overcrowding in these sheds, and because chickens are social animals who have a literal "pecking order", their sensitive beaks are cut with a hot blade (to cauterize the blood flow) so they cannot hurt each other in trying to establish an impossible order in such crowded conditions. Also due to the crowding in a large, often poorly lit shed, the conditions of a typical "free-range" facility are filthy with excrement on the floor in which the hens live and extremely poor air quality due to the lack of ventilation. In addition to the harsh living conditions, the hens are genetically designed to be enormously productive in laying eggs, which causes them to be less healthy than traditional hens. The poor health of layers is largely due to the fact that chickens who are not exploited eat most of their eggs (in natural conditions, only a small percentage of eggs hatch), replenishing the nutrients they lose in the eggs they produce. When their eggs are taken from the hens, the hens lose the opportunity to replenish the nutrients lost in producing the egg. Genetically-designed, highly productive layers lose even more nutrients and end up even poorer in health because they lose more eggs to humans than natural hens.

The egg production of hens peaks when the hens are around seven months old and drops significantly at around 15 months old. To get an extra six months of production out of the hens, "free-range" producers will engage in a practiced called "forced molting" to imitate the conditions of the winter-spring transition. In forced molting, the hens are starved for several days up to 14 days and the lighting in the shed is dimmed. Hens can lose up to 30% of their body weight during this starvation process and some of the weaker hens already malnourished from not being able to consume their own eggs are killed as a result. Several weeks after the forced molt ends, production is back to normal.

After the "free-range" hens are "spent", a condition in which they can no longer produce eggs at a commercially-viable rate and in which their health has deteriorated significantly from both the wretched living conditions and from losing nutrients from egg production/loss, the hens are transported to slaughter. Both transportation and slaughter can mean some of the most intensive cruelty the hens have yet experienced. They and their bones are very weak from giving so much nutrition for so long without replenishment from eating their own eggs. When they are handled roughly in transportation and slaughter, their bones are often broken. Also, layer hens are generally not used for human meat consumption; the meat is of very poor quality due to the poor health of the hens. "Free-range" hens end up at the same slaughterhouses as any other chicken where they are often intentionally tortured hurled against the wall and stomped upon by frustrated workers in poor working conditions with low pay. Even if the " free-range" chickens are not intentionally tortured, some miss the electric "stunning" bath and neck blade (from struggling upside-down in their leg shackles) and instead are boiled alive in the de-feathering (scalding) tank.

Commercially-viable egg production, regardless of the label ("free-range", "cage-free", or "organic"), is extremely cruel to chickens. As mentioned above, hens who are not exploited eat most of their eggs as a natural way to replenish many of the nutrients they lose in producing eggs. Even in the best conditions imaginable, such as in a sanctuary or in the wild, it is unhealthy and exploitive to the hens to take their eggs from them. When we add the extremely cruel living conditions that "free-range" hens endure along with the mass-slaughtering that is required to keep egg production economically feasible, consuming eggs simply makes no sense at all for anyone concerned about the treatment or slaughter of animals. Source.


  • The Meat Myth: Free-Range Isn't Always Safer —The Atlantic Monthly, 6/2011
    I fundamentally oppose raising animals for food that humans don't need. This claim holds true regardless of how the meat is produced or consumed.

    I mention this point because the study I'm about to highlight could easily be distorted. The report, published in the February 2011 issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, challenges the perception that intensive animal farming is more likely to spread foodborne pathogens than free-range systems. My choice in drawing attention to this counterintuitive article is decidedly not to argue that factory farms are okay and that we should all go out and support Tyson's. To the contrary, I want to advance the more radical notion that animal farming in general—whether confined or free-range—is fraught with unique problems that we could easily avoid by not eating meat.

  • California Egg Farms Sued for False Advertising —Mercy For Animals 10/2012.
    In stark contrast to the idyllic barnyard scenes depicted on their egg packaging, hens at these so-called "free-range" facilities are crowded by the thousands into dark sheds for nearly their entire lives.

    According to ALDF, these major egg producers have misled concerned consumers into paying more money for some of the same abuses one might expect from a factory egg farm.

    …Animal agriculture by its very nature exploits animals. While free-range systems typically require some access to the outdoors--and in that way, are an improvement on conventional battery-cage systems whereby hens are crammed into cages so small they can't even spread their wings--treating animals as commodities to be consumed inevitably subjects these animals to needless suffering.

    Free-range hens endure much of the same misery as battery-caged hens, including overcrowded living conditions, denial of veterinary care, abusive handling, painful mutilations without anesthesia, and violent slaughter.

  • That chicken dinner? It might make you sick MSNBC, 2/2009
    Pathogens and poison could be lurking in your favorite lean meat

    There is a 50 percent chance that the bird you bring home from the grocery store will contain Campylobacter (known as campy for short).... The pathogen, found in a chicken’s intestinal tract, causes no harm to the animals, but it can make humans very ill, sometimes fatally, if high cooking temperatures don’t kill it. Seeing as how the average American puts away more than 42 pounds of poultry per year (equal to 222 chicken breasts), your chances of getting sick are considerable.
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Nutritional information contained on this site is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician or nutritionist. If you are experiencing an emergent medical situation contact a doctor, urgent care facility or hospital emergency room. Talk over any major lifestyle changes with your trusted medical professional.
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