46 million birds in Spain, almost the same figure as the number of people in this country. Where are these birds? When was the last time we saw a hen? The answer is simple but not pleasant, they are shut up in farms.
With so many millions of birds registered each year in Spain this country is number two in the list of egg producers in the European Union, which itself is the second egg producer worldwide.
In order to achieve such levels of production (7,350 tonnes of eggs collected in 2015 in the EU) the birds have to be shut away in intensive farms and producing at a higher-than-natural rate.
These animals manage to lay one egg per day thanks to two factors: genetic selection of the hens which lay more eggs and the alteration of their biological rhythms so that they are active more hours of the day.
But what are hens really like? They are sensitive animals and their entire fragile body is covered with receptors, and they do not tolerate changes in their surroundings when they are under a lot of stress. In their natural state they care for their chicks from the first day and they protect them beneath their wings. This does not happen in factory farms, where the eggs are taken away and hens do not live more than 18 months when they reach maturity and begin a process known as “moulting”. During the moulting they stop laying so many eggs, which means it is in the farmers interest to send them off for slaughter.
Hens are very active animals during daylight hours when they search their surroundings for food for themselves and their chicks, pecking everywhere. They enjoy sand-baths, spreading their wings at ground level in order to remove parasites. They also gather elements from their natural surroundings in order to build nests. In factory farms, as they live in cages the size of a standard laptop computer and don’t have material available with which to build nests, their stress levels rise sharply, even leading to harming themselves. The most common way that they hurt themselves and channel this energy is by tearing out their feathers.
They are also territorial animals with a strong sense of hierarchy which they all know and respect. However, living so close together, often without the space even to spread their wings, they sometimes attack each other and cause injuries.
Furthermore, the lack of darkness, caused by up to 15 hours of artificial light per day to which they are subjected, forces production and reduces rest.
Just as with other species, many of these animals die in the trucks on the way to the slaughterhouse due to the injuries and stress they suffer on the journey. Moreover, in the case of birds, being so easy to handle the workers load them into the truck by their legs quickly and carelessly, causing further injuries.
In the following report, we list all the details of the living conditions of birds on poultry farms in Spain.
FAADA report on the transition to a cage-free laying hen system in Spain
Reports on consumption in Spain
Information on the livestock industry from the Spanish Ministry
WHO's report: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat
Compassion in World Farming
Spanish Vegetarian Union
The documentary Empatía