If you’re vegan or an ethical vegetarian, you probably know that the “cage-free” or “free range” labels on eggs don’t mean much. They are marginally better than battery cage raised eggs at best, but still involve keeping laying hens in overcrowded conditions where they live in their own feces, rarely (if ever) see the sun, and may still even peck and trample each other to death.
A little better would be a local organic farm (depending on the farm) where the chickens run about a large natural area, living a good chicken life. For vegans, who oppose exploitative practices or who consider killing (even in a “humane” way) to be cruelty in and of itself, this also is not an acceptable source of eggs. Most farms who rely on animals for their profits aren’t going to keep a chicken around who isn’t laying anymore. Chickens can live many years longer than they can lay eggs.
And then even better than the local farm is the neighbor with back yard chickens (depending on the neighbor) who treat their hens as well as they treat their beloved dog or cat. These hens may experience a great environment with human kindness and might even live out their lives as members of the family, even when they can no longer produce eggs. Even in this case, I am not comfortable with this as a source of eggs because in order to get those chickens in the first place, those caring neighbors most likely had to purchase their chicks from a chicken breeder who engages in exploitative practices, raising chicks as a commodity for human use. In most cases, the chicks are shipped in boxes across the country. (If they happened to find a young chicken up for adoption at the humane society, that would be a different story.)
But consider a sanctuary, whose mission is to take in animals in need and give them a safe haven for the rest of their natural lives. That sanctuary may have taken in hens who might otherwise have been killed, who then lay more eggs than can possibly be used at the sanctuary. In this case, what harm is done to any chicken, or other living creature, by eating those eggs?
That is exactly the situation I came across today when I visited a sanctuary outside of Asheville, NC. The caretakers themselves are vegans and are active in the community with other vegan organizations and events. They allow friends of the sanctuary to come and take their spare eggs. I took a dozen and I don’t feel any less vegan for doing so.