To the editors:
In the May 22 article entitled "Chicken Paradise," in which United Poultry Concerns is cited on page 32, Grant Pick does the valuable job of showing how hens can be housed to produce eggs without being stuffed into the small wire battery cages that 97 percent of commercial laying hens in the United States are currently confined in. Battery caged hens develop painful throat blisters from having to stretch their necks repeatedly across a piece of wire in order to reach the food trough, and severe foot damage from having to stand constantly on the thin wire flooring used to reduce the number of eggs broken in the tight cages.
Battery caged hens get a horrible disease, that's new to chickens, called Caged Layer Fatigue (Caged Layer Osteoporosis) in which they become paralyzed from being cooped without exercise while constantly drained of calcium to produce egg shells. The lack of exercise and other abnormal constraints imposed on them cause fat to accumulate in their reproductive systems. The industry responds with a method known as forced molting, in which hens who are to be used for another laying cycle are systematically starved of food anywhere from 4 to 14 days straight in order to lose a recommended 25 to 30 percent of body weight. Harsh artificial light-blackout alterations, water deprivation, and drugs such as methalibure, enhaptin, progesterone, chlormadinone, and iodine are part of this overall method the caged-layer industry says is "here to stay."
These are some of the reasons that those of us who are working to promote a better life for chickens welcome improved alternative housing systems for laying hens, while at the same time groups like United Poultry Concerns and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (cited on page 32) actively promote vegetarian replacements for eggs in cooking and dining.
An uncaged hen is happier than a caged hen; however, it is disappointing to know that the Wubbenas debeak ("beak clip," "beak trim") their birds and treat it as a minor operation when scientific studies of this procedure conducted in the United States, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom for three decades have shown that, physiologically, chickens' beaks are highly sensitive, with a complex nerve supply enabling them to perform the wide range of social and biological activities suited to their species. Chickens with surgically amputated beaks develop beak tumors and extreme sensitiveness to normal environmental stimuli such as ground surfaces and water, and to personal hygiene activities such as preening and beak wiping. They show signs of pain comparable to human phantom limb and stump pain. They exhibit guarding behavior and depression. In his 1991 review of the evidence of suffering of hens in battery cages, "Do Hens Suffer in Battery Cages?," Dr. Michael C. Appleby of the University of Edinburgh conservatively calls beak trimming "The main injury caused by humans, knowingly rather than accidentally. It is now known to cause pain, in the short term and probably also in the long term, in a way similar to other amputations."
It is very sad that chickens, with their verve and pleasure in the grass and sun, and even rain and snow, which many of them love, are forced to comply with the dictates of a species with a penchant for imprisonment unknown to chickens. Phil Wubbena kindly and rightly says on page 28 of the article that "To put a hen in a cage her whole life makes her sad." The caged hen's only hope is for us to share her sadness to the point of refusing to cooperate any longer in the creation of it by redirecting our consumer dollar.
Karen Davis, PhD
United Poultry Concerns