There IS such a thing as cruelty-free eggs

April 10th, 2011
sanctuary eggs

sanctuary eggs

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.)

sanctuary chicken

sanctuary chicken

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.

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22 Responses to “There IS such a thing as cruelty-free eggs”

  1. kekelila Says:

    Eggs are fresh?

  2. Aunt Kathie Says:

    Interesting. I like the photo too. Did it feel odd to eat eggs after so long not doing so?

  3. vegangirl Says:

    It didn’t feel odd at all, actually. Probably because I’ve been mentally prepared for it for a while. I have been hoping to find a truly cruelty-free exploitation-free source of eggs for years.

  4. Vanessa Says:

    There are indeed some farms that treat the animals right, they are raised in a yard not in cages and free to roam around, obviously that costs a lot more so the eggs cost a lot more, it”s up to you to make a decision

  5. Zoe Says:

    I’m a vegetarian and I currently eat free-range organic eggs but bought from the supermarket. I think it is great that you have found such ethically produced eggs. I would really love to be able to provide my own source of ethically produced eggs someday by taking on ex-battery hens.

  6. Kristen Says:

    Thank you for posting this. I think that one day I might try to rescue some battery hens.. And if I do, I just might eat their eggs. Maybe.

  7. Gabriel Says:

    Please correct me if I’m misinformed but I believe the term Vegan describes a person who does not consume ANY animal products…?

  8. vegangirl Says:

    That is the common definition, but I have always found it to be a very arbitrary one. My standard has always been to avoid contributing to the suffering or exploitation of sentient animals.

    Examples of other things that I don’t find ethically problematic (but not necessarily things that I ever do) would include eating/wearing animal products that came from a dumpster (often referred to as “freegan”) or eating animals with no central nervous system such as clams.

    There is a very interesting discussion of this on vegan outreach:

    From that page:
    Perhaps instead of defining a vegan as “someone who does not use animal products,” we should define a vegan as “someone who reasonably avoids products that cause suffering to nonhumans.”

  9. Kait Says:

    I love being home in PA because my mother has a few hens who she keeps in her horse barn and I can eat the eggs without any guilt. The gals run around the farm, wherever they wish during the day and then have a coop to stay in at night (this didn’t use to be the case but we have a weasel to who just murders them at night if they are out). I know that they are cared for and basically live like chicken queens. Wish I had a set up like this back in STL when I am there for school…

  10. Rhonda Says:

    Love your definition of vegan, “someone who reasonably avoids products that cause suffering to nonhumans.”

  11. vegan Says:

    Yeah, nice for you. But think a moment about the reason why birds give eggs. it’s disturbing if someone steals your “offspring”. Hens give morge eggs, if you take them away. calcium is the primary mineral that makes up eggshells, so hens get lack of it. leave hens alone, eggs are nasty periodic-stuff, unhealthy for humans an physical AND psychological pain for birds. that’s why vegans avoid ANY animal “products”…they’re no commodities for us.

  12. Nathan Peirce Says:

    Are those your guesses or are is there some support for that? It’s hard to tell, but it sounds like guesswork to me.

    How upset do chickens get about their eggs being taken? Some animals get really upset, like us for example, while others don’t care one bit, like sea turtles, so I wouldn’t make any assumptions. Does someone know if chickens show distress when their eggs are taken?

    About calcium, just because eggs are built on calcium, doesn’t mean hens who lay a lot of eggs have calcium problems. Their bodies may just adapt by absorbing more of what they need from what they eat or by having lots of extra in reserve in the fist place before they start laying eggs. Those are just examples.

    I’m guessing they don’t need as strong bones as they do if they’re trying to dodge foxes and stuff in the wild. Looks like they’ve pretty much got the sweet life with no worries.

    Also, a bit of calcium loss is normal for mothers of any species.

    I’ve heard of bone problems in factory farms, but do free-range laying hens with good food get bone problems? I haven’t heard that.

    What’s this “periodic-stuff” you’re talking about? Is that about religious food law…?

  13. Nina Says:

    Chickens generally do not get distressed when eggs are taken unless they are attempting to “set.” Chickens don’t attempt to do this with all eggs, so no, it doesn’t bother them.

    As far as chickens getting calcium, that is why folks who keep chickens save their shells. The chickens will consume the eggshells to reclaim the calcium.

    As a bit of proof, my grandmother had chickens, ducks, and geese. She lived by a river and our swimming hole was also where the ducks liked to swim. We would often find eggs that the ducks had laid mid-swim at the bottom of swimming hole… they just left them.

    Eggs are just that, eggs. Humans aren’t attached to their eggs, they’re attached to their fetuses and children. Birds are the same.

  14. Gretchen Says:

    Women produce an egg every month. Most do not produce a baby unless sperm is present. A hen will lay an egg, but if there is no rooster who inseminated the egg, it will not become a baby chick.

  15. Tim Says:

    What’s the difference between eggs from a sanctuary bird and eggs from a bird at a neighborhood friend’s house? Wouldn’t that be same? They are both saving the bird from having a terrible fate(assuming the neighborhood friend doesn’t plan on killing the chicken).

  16. vegangirl Says:

    I agree, it depends on the friend. I know vegans who adopted chickens and I would have no qualms about eating their eggs. The important factors to me (in no particular order) are:
    1 – The chickens are not killed when they stop laying
    2 – The chickens live a healthy and happy life
    3 – The chickens were rescued/adopted, rather than purchased from an animal dealer

    It’s #3 that is usually the difference between backyard chickens and sanctuaries.

    Now, if someone ate only eggs that met criteria 1 and 2, I think that is a wonderful improvement over the typical grocery store eggs, and I’m not trying to judge anyone for that choice. I look for all 3 in order to stay consistent with my personal values.

  17. Amy Westcott Says:

    When we had chickens they had free access to Oyster shell to replace calcium loss. Also they were really pets. We loved them named them alowed them to roam all day. We never would harm them even they stopped laying. A small flock is great.

  18. Sharon Says:

    I have just read that taking even non-fertilized eggs from a hen affects their health and well-being:

  19. Namaste Says:

    This is amazing! Thanks for sharing ????????

  20. Namaste Says:

    um Those were supposed to be smilies
    Thank you

  21. Cat Says:

    PLEASE READ. I visited a wonderful sanctuary (the Happily Ever Esther Farm in Ontario Canada) who told me the truth about cruelty-free eggs. The hard fact is, there is no such thing because the chickens we (as a society) have access to have all been GMO’d to the point of killing themselves to lay eggs. Basically all chickens in existence right now have been genetically messed with to lay an egg a day – that’s their purpose and identity according to our world. Yet chickens were never meant to do this and it destroys their bodies very quickly by depleting them of vital minerals and nutrients. It’s like human women being GMO’d to have their period (i.e. lay an egg) every couple days. Can you imagine the strain on our bodies? How chronically anaemic we would be? And we don’t have to push ours out like chickens do! This really upset me because a few years ago, I kept about a dozen chickens and felt no qualms whatsoever about eating their eggs. “Yay!” I thought. “I’ve finally got cruelty-free eggs!” But what happened was, one by one all my little ladies died quite young of complications related to their cloaca (the hole where the eggs come out, along with other stuff!). Now I realise that it was due to the inevitable wear and tear of them laying an egg every day, just as they and their mothers and their daughters were bred to do by our cruel systems… 🙁 ever since then, I don’t find eggs (in any situation) excusable. At the sanctuary I visited, they feed each rescued chicken’s egg back to her every day, in an attempt to replace the nutrients and minerals she has lost by laying it. Just some information that I think is crucial to know.

  22. Marky Mark Says:

    Technically they’re not “GM”, they’ve been selectively bred to have those traits over many years. It’s sad that these organisms have been altered to suite our societies’ needs, but now that they are like this there’s not really anything you can do (unless you want to selectively breed them back to a state where they could survive in the wild again). Even so, most animals in the wild live a life of fear and stress. At least free range (truly free range) chickens get the best life possible, providing they aren’t killed after they can no longer lay eggs. It’s the grinding of young male chicks that sickens me more than anything else. I have to say that sanctuary hens really are the only source of cruelty free eggs – and that’s damn near impossible to find for most of us. I suppose if you really want to eat cruelty free eggs, you’d have to buy / rescue a chicken from someone who was planning on killing the bird after it outlived its usefulness.

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