There’s no such thing as an ethical egg
An Egg Production Article from

FROM Justin Van Kleeck, Triangle Chicken Advocates
October 2020

No matter how much anyone pampers or spoils or loves their “pet” chickens, the hens’ eggs belong to the hens. Taking the fruit of someone else’s labor without consent for your own benefit when you don’t need it is not ethical, ever.

backyard Hens
Image from Unsplash

One of the most common rebuttals to our arguments against eating backyard eggs sounds something like the image here: my chickens are pets, they live a life of luxury, they all live to old age and die of natural causes while sitting on pillows eating bon bons watching Golden Girls reruns and demanding we bow before them in obeisance. More or less.

This can be EXTREMELY challenging to argue down, because we (vegan or not) are largely conditioned to perceive animal farming in terms of how animals are treated. If animals appear to be treated “well,” then the question of ethics runs smack into the brick wall of cultural conditioning and speciesism.

So, how to address this?

Let me first say, I’ve heard versions of this many times while rescuing animals from the backyards. One that sticks with me is a woman who bred and bought chickens, and who told me they were her friends... until they went to the processing factory. Not everyone does this, but a lot do, and everyone believes they spoil their chickens while using them for food. Hell, even small farmers with hens out in an open field and little else have told me as much.

More to the point, it’s important to see these supposedly luxuriating chickens in a systemic context.

1) Are they only or largely hens, bought or hatched on site? If so, their brothers are surely dead (reminder: chickens overall hatch equal ratios of male:female chicks). If not, how does this person accommodate every single rooster, generation after generation?

2) Either way, the only reason chickens exist is because they were taken from their ancestral habitat and domesticated, millennia of selective breeding turning them into food and/or entertainment for humans. No matter how someone comes by (buying, breeding, “rescuing”) or treats their chickens, to benefit from the functions that were the causes for (and foci of) their exploitation is to be a part of that exploitation. You cannot separate your consumption of their eggs from the historical system that caused them to be your food.

If you don’t know the concept of the fruit of the poisonous tree, read more about it here: The Unavoidably Violent History of Backyard Eggs

3) I run a sanctuary, and let me be clear: even when a backyard chicken reaches a vegan sanctuary, they are not “free.” Both hens and roosters will FOREVER have to deal with the repercussions of domestication, primarily related to alterations to their reproductive systems. Our endless struggle to keep them alive for as long as possible sheds light on how inconsistent it is to call chickens “pets” (yuck) or companions or family members while also benefiting from their bodies. This consumption also maintains eggs as food, and insures chickens will forever be put into situations of harm. The best care for hens is preventative care to stop their laying if possible; roosters are complicated, too, for related reasons. Benefiting from what harms someone (individually and systemically) is not “love” in any sense of the word.

4) It is always illuminating to me that chicken keepers accept the death of their chickens as “natural causes” for reasons that aren’t really “natural.” Red junglefowl (Chickens’ ancestors) can live up to 30 years if kept safe in captivity. So 6 or 8 or 13 isn’t “old” for a chicken. Dying from a reproductive disease or from a heart issue or by being torn apart by a predator isn’t “natural”—it’s a direct result of domestication, selective breeding, and being placed in environments where they don’t belong. This isn’t referenced in the comment displayed, but I’ve seen this enough to know it’s implied.

5) The idea of bodily autonomy is very important to me as an individual and especially as a vegan. So I’ll end by emphasizing that no matter how much anyone pampers or spoils or loves their “pet” chickens, the hens’ eggs belong to the hens. Taking the fruit of someone else’s labor without consent for your own benefit when you don’t need it is not ethical, ever. Doing so when those hens cannot escape the toil and are very likely to suffer and die from it (and their brothers probably did die because they couldn’t do it...) is wrong.

There’s no such thing as an ethical egg. Love chickens? Start a sanctuary with rescued hens, feed them their own eggs, and rescue roosters too.

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