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Last updated on September 2, 2022

The question of whether eggs are vegan or not tends to spark some debate. It’s easy to assume that no chickens are hurt in the process of collecting their laid eggs. And since eggs do not actually contain a fetus, where is the harm? The most common assumption is that a chicken lays an egg, the egg gets taken, and it ends there. Unfortunately, this is not accurate. In order to grasp the inaccuracy of that assumption, you have to look at the full picture.

For one, how does an egg farm end up with only female chickens (hens)? How do these hens manage to lay so many eggs per year? What happens to the hens once they are no longer capable of laying eggs? The answers to these questions are where egg farming takes a very dark turn.

Why are eggs not vegan?

Here are the main reasons why eggs are not vegan.

Hens are slaughtered once they are no longer fertile

Eggs are essentially the product of a hen’s ovulation. Similar to humans, hens only ovulate during the fertile stages of their life. Once a hen is no longer fertile, at approximately 6 years old, they are considered worthless by egg farmers. The most cost-effective way to dispose of an infertile hen is to send her away for slaughter. A healthy, well cared for chicken can live up to 20 years old [1].

Hens are exploited in order to produce more eggs

In the same way that female cows are exploited in order to produce milk, hens are exploited in order to produce an unnatural amount of eggs. Egg-laying hens are genetically engineered and bred selectively to lay significantly more eggs than they would in the wild. Instead of laying 10 to 15 eggs per year as they would in nature, hens in egg farms are producing up to 300 eggs per year [2]. Laying so many eggs is physically and emotionally exhausting for a hen and detrimental to its quality of life. Not to mention, most egg farm hens are cooped up in tiny cages with no sunlight, and little to no walking space.

Male chicks born on egg farms are instantly slaughtered

As many as 6 billion male chicks born on egg farms are slaughtered every year globally [3]. Since chicks born from egg-laying hens are not the same breed used for producing chicken meat, the male chicks are slaughtered as soon as they’re born. There would essentially be no economic advantage to raising them, so they are considered worthless in the egg industry. Most often, these chicks are disposed of by being thrown into industrial-sized blenders.

Eggs are a chicken byproduct

Lastly, while they are not meat, eggs are still not vegan because they are an animal byproduct. Given that they are the unfertilized egg of a hen, eggs are considered an animal product in the same way that dairy is.

Are backyard eggs vegan?

Many people like to believe that it’s not cruel to eat eggs from a backyard chicken coop. Some people will even go as far as to say that it’s vegan to do so. They often believe this because of the small scale and the care that they provide their chickens. So, are backyard eggs vegan?

Eating eggs from a backyard chicken coop is not vegan at all. For one, by taking your hen’s eggs away from her, she will think she has to lay more. This only benefits the person taking the eggs away for consumption. It takes a hen 24 hours to produce an egg [4], so forcing your hen to restart this process right after laying an egg is simply cruel. It’s also exploitation. Chickens are highly intelligent animals and deserve more in life than just laying eggs.

Secondly, egg-laying hens purchased for backyard coops are commonly purchased from the animal agriculture industry. Not only is purchasing an animal not vegan, but directly supporting such a business is not vegan either.

If you want chickens in your backyard and plan on caring for them as family members, please adopt them from a rescue organization and leave their eggs alone.

Sources

  1. How long do chickens live? My Pet Chicken. Accessed September 1, 2022.
  2. Eggs: What Are You Really Eating? Free From Harm. Accessed September 1, 2022.
  3. 12 Egg Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know. Free From Harm. Accessed September 1, 2022.
  4. Is It Okay For Vegans To Eat Eggs From Backyard Chickens? Minimalist Vegan. Accessed September 1, 2022.