THE BLOG
11/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Not So Eggcellent

Before I became a vegan I was a vegetarian. That means I used to consume milk, eggs and cheese, along with my veggies and grains, but certainly no meat. I believed I was doing right by the animals because they weren't being killed for my meals. I felt really good about my decision and didn't think much about where my eggs came from. It seemed pretty innocuous, chickens laying eggs, but then I learned there was a fate as bad or even worse than death in the slaughterhouse.

When I found out about the true conditions under which egg-laying hens labor, it was easy to eliminate the not-so-Incredible, Edible Egg from my diet. Now I'm not saying that everyone needs to stop eating eggs, but what I am saying is that it is important to know how the eggs you eat are procured. Free range and cage free eggs may be slightly more expensive, but you may conclude that it is worth a few pennies more to make sure that the chickens don't end up living in conditions like the ones at Norco Egg Ranch.

Norco Ranch
in Menifee, California is hell on earth for chickens. As documented through undercover video and diary entries by Aaron, a member of an animal rights group called Mercy for Animals, here's a taste of what life is really like for most egg-laying hens across the country.

Diary entry, September 7, 2008...

"I found a live hen with her body trapped under her cage's front wall and draped over the egg belt with eggs backing up against her head. I picked up the hen and took her to a worker, saying, 'She's not dead.' The worker immediately grabbed the hen by the head and spun her in circles for several seconds before throwing her on the concrete floor, where she gasped, twitched her legs, and convulsed for nearly two minutes."

In a scene reminiscent of Dante's Inferno, we enter a world where piles of decomposing corpses of dead and dying chickens lie not far from barns filled to the brim with chickens stacked in cages one on top of the other with the most unfortunate chickens having to live not only in their own waste, but in the waste of the chickens from the cages above them. Many of the hens suffer from orbital lesions occluding their eyes, their limbs are atrophied due to lack of exercise and they experience a loss of feathers and horrible sores due to the constant rubbing up against the metal bars of their cages. They can barely take a breath in the intense ammonia fumes of a cloying environment where temperatures often soar to over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. And the only simple pleasure they have, eating, is hampered by the mutilation of debeaking, a terrifying and painful procedure done to chickens so they don't hurt each other in reaction to the extremely stressful, confined conditions they are forced to live in.

Another diary entry dated August 24, 2008...

"I found a hen in a top cage with a large prolapse dripping blood. There was one other hen in her cage who had a bloody beak, indicating that this bird had been cannibalizing the prolapse."

Bred to lay larger eggs, these hens can experience severe trauma and pain around their cloacas (or vent, basically the orifice from which the egg is deposited) and when too many chickens must live in small cages, too close together, vent pecking and cannibalism by cage mates becomes the norm.

So what is Norco Ranch going to do about this? Most likely, the same thing every slaughterhouse or factory farm does when caught red-handed: deny, point fingers, deflect and change the subject. Norco will claim the abuse or neglect was the fault of their minimum (or less than minimum) wage, probably illegal, powerless workers, and that Norco has strict policies for humane treatment of their "product" and that those workers will be reprimanded or fired. And then what? Well, Norco Ranch will continue to do business as usual and that means hiring a handful of unskilled workers to tend to the basic needs of up to 330,000 live animals. How is that possible? Well, it's not. It just isn't.

So billions of chickens will continue to suffer in exactly the same way the Norco chickens suffered as described above.

Proposition 2 will alleviate some of that suffering. Banning battery cages for egg-laying hens will abolish the nightmarish life those chickens must endure until they die.

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