Every fortnight I receive a delivery of 12 dozen eggs from Hen Nation, which I distribute to neighbours and family members. Hen Nation has a flock of 1200 hens, who would have been destroyed by the farming industry, having been deemed to be past the age of reliable egg-laying (about 72 weeks). Were it not for Hen Nation, these animals would be dead rather than living out their natural lives in a genuinely free range environment.
From time to time, on Vegan blogs and forums, the question comes up about whether it is vegan to eat eggs from rescue hens (or backyard hens). Here are a couple of responses from a recent Facebook post which posed that question:
So often, these forums lack any kind of nuance, or attempt to understand another point of view. So I decided to take a bit more time here, to work through my own thoughts on the matter. Full disclosure: when I first became vegan, I did occasionally eat the Hen Nation eggs. I still described myself as vegan, because I felt that this was the best-fit label for my diet and lifestyle choices. More recently, without having made a firm decision on the matter, I realised that I hadn't eaten any of these eggs for many months, and had no desire to. It would seem odd now for me to eat something that has come out of the body of animal. But this is something that has happened slowly and naturally for me. Not because I was attached to the label of being 'vegan'. I do still buy them for my family and neighbours, who would otherwise be eating organic eggs from supermarket which, as we all know, involve the slaughter of male chicks and also of the hens themselves once their laying slows down. Rescue hen's eggs, in my opinion, are the most ethical option apart from not eating eggs at all.
Of course, rescue hens shouldn't exist. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if there was nothing to rescue them from! But they do, and the alternative for them is death.
Many farm animal sanctuaries do not sell eggs. They either feed them back to the hens, replacing valuable lost calcium from the artificial breeding practices that have resulted in hens laying eggs every day, rather than once a month as their wild ancestors would have done. Imagine breeding a human female to have a constant period from the age of 8. Imagine the health problems that would result from such a hideous experiment. But hens lay too many eggs to be able to eat them all and resaborb the calcium. I grew up on an organic smallholding and we had hens wandering about all over the place. I would often find abandoned eggs hidden in hay bales near their run, so I know for sure that hens do NOT always sit on their eggs. At Hen Nation there are no roosters, so none of the laid eggs will be fertile. So what else could they do with the leftover eggs? They could leave them for wild animals in the area to scavenge, an option some sanctuaries take... or they could sell them and use the money so maintain the sanctuary and rescue more hens. This is what Hen Nation have chosen to do, and I am happy to support them.
Remember, the definition of veganism is a lifestyle in which you seek, as far as practicable and possible, to avoid the cruelty and exploitation of animals. I would be hard-pressed to understand how anyone could think these rescued hens are subject to cruelty or explotiation. The products of their bodies are being used for their own benefit, rather than a financial gain for a farmer or nutrition for a human. The only sticking point is that they exist as a result of cruelty and exploitation. Maybe one day we will live in a world of wild hens again, and their poor ravaged bodies will evolve naturally back towards their original state. Here's hoping.