Every so often I’m reminded of how little I really know about animals. And yesterday was one of those days. I don’t mind those reminders, in fact I look forward to them. It helps me to put things into perspective. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed in my activism, my heart full of sadness for the animals I’m not able to help- the unnecessary loss of life. Even though I would consider myself to be knowledgeable in my activism, I realize that sometimes it’s okay to say, “I just don’t know, I’ll have to find out.” Those reminders encourage me to learn more, to grow more as an activist. Like I said, yesterday was one of those days.
I received a phone call from a friend saying, “I don’t want to talk to my friend, I want to talk to the activist.” He asked me about the lives of chickens and cows. Now, I can spout off some factory farming statistics, can’t everyone by now? But it wasn’t really farming that had him curious. He wanted to know about “compassionate,” “humane” use of animals. For instance, why not use the milk of your dairy cow if it has already given birth and is already producing milk? And the question that I just didn’t know, how do the chickens get pregnant?
How do chickens get pregnant? I haven’t the foggiest clue. In thinking about it, I realized that, while I know the conditions these poor birds are subjected to routinely- I know little about their biological lives, generally speaking.
To answer the question, chickens don’t get pregnant. A hen will produce eggs, but it will only be fertilized if a rooster is present. The number of eggs produced is affected by things such breed, light, temperature and nutrition.
That said, it is true that most (if not all) of the eggs produced on a factory farm are unfertilized eggs. Meaning, they could never grow into a chick. So does that mean that humans should just scoop them up and eat them- since they aren’t really going to be an animal anyway?
I’ve already mentioned that egg production is affected by things like light, temperature, and nutrition. You can bet that the farmers manipulate these conditions to ensure that the hens are laying as many eggs as possible. And you can bet that the conditions are horrific, birds crammed into tiny wire cages, rows stacked upon rows of them. And of course, you can bet that the hens aren’t treated with kindness when they are killed.
But even if you raise your own hens, should you eat the eggs? Nope.
I don’t have the right to assume that I’m not harming an animal. I don’t speak chicken, cow, or pig. And as much as I’d like to think otherwise, I don’t speak dog or cat either. I don’t know for sure how a chicken would react if I took her egg. I can guess, but I don’t know. Even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. I don’t need to consume animal products to be healthy. I can get every nutrient that I need from a plant based diet. And even if I didn’t, I would find a way to live my life without taking from another.
I’m sure it will seem silly to some people that I wouldn’t take a perceived useless egg from a hen- I’m sure. But I have a responsibility to care for the animals on this planet. I can’t do that properly if I believe that their by-products are mine for the taking.
It’s all about respect, responsibility, and compassion- for the other animals in this world, and not least, our fellow humans.
Edited in 2015: It’s also important to note that chickens will eat their own eggs. The nutrients in them help replenish the calcium that is leached from their bones to produce all of those shells. For further reading please check out: Backyard Chickens: Expanding Our Understanding of “Harm”