Opinion Piece

Can backyard eggs be ethical?

By 30 October 2020No Comments

This is probably one of the topics vegans and non-vegans alike get the most confused about.

The statement ‘’but my hens live happily and freely in the backyard, what’s wrong with that?” is one we often hear. There are even those who identify as vegan whilst still eating their backyard eggs. With this blog post I will try to answer the most frequently asked questions, clear up the confusion and explain why eating backyard eggs is most definitely not ethical.


Where do backyard hens come from? 

People often buy their hens from farmers or breeders and thus (unconsciously) still supporting an incredibly cruel industry. Farmers and breeders will kill the male chicks (roosters) as they are considered a ‘’waste product’’ – after all, people come to buy the hens, not their male counterparts who do not provide any eggs. The male chicks get shredded alive, or gassed until they suffocate. This unfortunately is a fully legal practice, even in ‘free range farms’.


But what if I adopted my hens or rescued them?

Rescuing hens can be a noble act. We can actively save hens that might otherwise be killed for food or go back into the commercial egg-laying industry where they live in the most horrific conditions. But if we still consume the eggs from our rescued hens, we are not doing them any justice. We treat them as a resource rather than a companion. After all, if we rescued a dog from the RSPCA, we would not make them ‘earn’ the right to live with us.


But what is the issue with taking their eggs?
Picture this: wild junglefowls (the closest wild relative to the chicken) only produce an average of 12 eggs a year. Chickens in captivity are selectively bred to lay an egg several times a week – on average over 30 times more than is natural. This puts huge amounts of stress on their little bodies and causes massive vitamin and calcium deficiency. Osteoporosis and bone fractures are a common problem for the hens, as is ‘egg binding’: a condition where the egg gets stuck in the chicken and thus sick or injured hens often meet a premature death.


Can I ethically have backyard chickens?
Sure! If we rescue them from reputable rescue groups, commercial farms, school projects etc, rather than buying them from a breeder or farm. If we keep them as friends, not as a food resource. If we remember that their eggs are not ours to take; they belong to the hens. If we are willing to pay the vet bill if our feathered friends need medical attention. And if we really want to do what is best for them, we could consider paying for a hormonal implant that stops the egg production – much like female contraception. This may sound unnatural but we are merely reversing what we have done to the chickens with unnatural genetic manipulation to begin with. It takes away the stress that the over production has on their bodies and minimises health risks.


Do I really need to feed their eggs back to them?

Ideally, you prepare the eggs (scramble, or bake them, shells included) and feed them back to the chickens. They love the taste and it is really good for their calcium and vitamin levels. If that does not sound particularly appealing to you, consider simply leaving the eggs with the chickens or smash them on the ground and let the hens eat them up. In most cases, your hens will love eating their own eggs which is completely natural. Leaving the eggs with the chickens also means their egg laying frequency naturally goes down (they become broody) which has beneficial effects for their health too.


OK – I’m sold! Where do I get more information on this?

Watch this awesome video from Earthling Ed for more info or read this article, or this one.


Until next time! Herbivore hugs,