Thanks to Bea, I toured a battery cage. Here’s what I saw:
Hens on top of hens all crowded together in small cages. It was noisy, it was dark, it was unpleasant.
The tour was a virtual tour online at http://www.animalvisuals.org/empathy/virtualbatterycage/
The website includes facts about battery cages, including these:
In the United States, an estimated 95% of egg-laying hens are intensively confined in battery cages.
United Egg Producers. (2008 Edition, published 2003). United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines For U.S. Egg Laying Flocks. Retrieved November 15, 2008. page 1, paragraph 6.)
As of December 2008, about 300 million birds are confined in battery cages, almost one for every U.S. citizen.(source: USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service. (2008). Chickens and Eggs. Retrieved December 16, 2008.)
Like any animal, chickens are highly motivated to perform natural behaviors. These behaviors include nesting, perching, scratching, foraging, dust-bathing, exploring, and stretching. Caged chickens are denied all of these natural behaviors, causing them severe frustration.
(source: Shields, Sara, and Ian J.H. Duncan. (2006). An HSUS Report: A Comparison of the Welfare of Hens in Battery Cages and Alternative Systems. Retrieved December 18, 2008.)
Battery hens suffer from serious health problems, such as respiratory disease from constant exposure to ammonia fumes and fecal dust; osteoporosis, bone fractures, and prolapsed uteruses from being bred to lay large eggs at an unnaturally high rate; and foot disorders, sores, and injuries from contact with the cage wire.
(source: Shields, Sara, and Ian J.H. Duncan. (2006). An HSUS Report: A Comparison of the Welfare of Hens in Battery Cages and Alternative Systems. Retrieved December 18, 2008. and The Humane Society of the United States. (2008). An HSUS Report: Welfare Issues with Selective Breeding of Egg-Laying Hens for Productivity. Retrieved December 19, 2008.)
Chickens are confined for about a year and a half before their ability to lay eggs declines, then they are killed.
(source: USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services. National Animal Health Monitoring System. (2000). Layers ’99. Part II: Reference of 1999 Table Egg Layer Management in the U.S. Retrieved December 16, 2008.)