Letter: Hens should be raised cage-free

Interested candidates for summer jobs should contact Amber Mohmand at amber.mohmand@iowastatedaily.com for more details. Those interested in applying to work during the fall/spring term should contact Katherine Kealey at katherine.kealey@iowastatedaily.com. 

Interested candidates for summer jobs should contact Amber Mohmand at [email protected] for more details. Those interested in applying to work during the fall/spring term should contact Katherine Kealey at [email protected] 

The United States is the world’s largest producer of cow’s milk, chicken and beef, and we are also the world’s leading food exporter. The country’s status at the top of agriculture is due to hard work, innovation and the good fortune of living in a resource-rich land.

An area where we can improve, however, is in the treatment of our farm animals, especially laying hens. The majority of them, 250 million of the 300 million in the U.S., live a rough life.

At 18 weeks old, the birds are put in cages that are only 18 inches wide, 24 inches long and 17 inches high. And not just one bird per cage, but between six and eight. For the rest of their 18-month life, they are confined in wire walls and live on a wire floor. There is no nesting, dust-bathing or pecking at the ground.

But the news is not all bad. We, as consumers, can end this method of egg production by buying cage-free eggs instead of regular eggs. They cost more, but not by much. A recent check at Hy-Vee and Fareway found regular eggs for $2.20 a dozen and cage-free eggs for $3 a dozen.

Cage-free egg production has its problems. Among them are bacterial contamination of eggs laid directly on the ground where there is hen excrement, broken bones, a higher hen mortality from increased hen activity out of cages and the higher labor costs for gathering eggs. 

Cage-free hens do not reside in a sunrise over the barnyard type setting that many of us might imagine — the demands of producing many eggs cheaply don’t allow that. But cage-free does give hens space to walk, flap their wings, peck on the ground and nest. And the beauty is that we can make it happen for the hens by paying just a dollar more for a dozen eggs.     

I am the operations officer and an instructor in the Iowa State Army ROTC department. This is my opinion and not necessarily the opinion of Iowa State Army ROTC.