Egg Production Articles from

Counting Chickens And Eggs

From Creature Kind
August 2023

In the US egg farming industry, tens of thousands or even millions of hens live concentrated on relatively few farms, rather than many farms with fewer hens each. When infections hit these concentrated farms, millions of hens then will be killed, leading to an egg shortage.... The hard news for people who buy eggs is that prices are expected to stay high as this epidemic rages on, and shortages are likely to continue.

Hen sketches

My family once had three bantam hens living in our garden. Lucy, Charlotte, and Molly were colorful characters, and over time we enjoyed getting to know their personalities. Lucy, the biggest in height and girth, was always in everyone’s business; Charlotte was pretty easygoing; and tiny Molly was scrappy and tough. She was also the most prolific egg-layer of the three. Molly was a marvel.

Living closely with them, we witnessed the physical demands that normal egg production puts on hens. Before these ladies joined our home, I didn’t even understand the biology of egg production. I couldn’t fathom that female chickens could make eggs without a male rooster and some bedroom time — an act that I learned is called the “cloacal kiss.” Without a rooster in the mix, there was no cloacal kissing in our garden, so the hens’ eggs were never fertilized by sperm to produce chicks. But there were eggs, and we enjoyed eating and sharing them with neighbors.

The cost of eggs recently hit record peaks in Europe and the U.S., among other regions and countries. Holiday baking last Christmas season was made difficult by an egg shortage and made more expensive by the high price of eggs. For many people who have always relied on eggs as a more affordable form of nourishment, they are now too expensive.

Why the egg shortage and high prices? The biggest reason is the highly fatal bird flu, or avian flu, caused by the H5N1 virus, which has swept the world since 2021 killing millions of wild aquatic birds and farmed poultry. Here are some facts:

  • This is the largest bird flu epidemic since the first detected in 1996(1)
  • Some birds die from the flu itself, but in most cases, the farmed birds are killed to prevent the further spread of infection(2)
  • Farmed egg-laying hens are dying by the millions(3)

This is the worst bird flu epidemic for two reasons:

  • Previous epidemics peaked in seasons when migrating wild birds spread the virus through their feces and saliva, then tapered off. But, this epidemic hasn’t slowed down since it began
  • As infections spread, variants of the virus have mutated, spreading more quickly and becoming more virulent than at the start

Factory farming has helped spread this virus. The factory-farming of egg-laying hens and turkeys has been to this epidemic as a match put to tinder wood. It simply takes one infected wild bird to fly over a factory farm and drop poop on equipment, clothing, feed, or animals. When tens of thousands of severely stressed animals live crowded together standing in their own waste, the virus is given the right conditions to spread quickly, evolving as it spreads.(4)

In the US egg farming industry, tens of thousands or even millions of hens live concentrated on relatively few farms, rather than many farms with fewer hens each. When infections hit these concentrated farms, millions of hens then need to be killed, leading to an egg shortage.(5) (6)

The hard news for people who buy eggs is that prices are expected to stay high as this epidemic rages on, and shortages are likely to continue.

egg carton sketch

Let’s pause for a minute to consider the birds involved. The worst news is for them. Infected hens die an agonizing death. And, when even a single infection is found on a farm in the U.S. (and many other countries), the government requires that every bird be killed. For some farming operations, this means killing hundreds of thousands of birds or more. One farm in Iowa killed 5.3 million hens because an infection was detected in one hen.(7)

Killing many hens at once is a logistical challenge. For factory farms, little care is given to how the hens suffer as they die. The two most common but unthinkably cruel methods companies use to kill hens are suffocating them or causing them to die of heatstroke.

Let’s also pause to consider the people involved. Factory farm laborers are some of the most vulnerable people in society, leaving them open to exploitation — low wages, oppressive working conditions, and no job security. At the Iowa factory mentioned above, employees had to pull — count them! — 5.3 million hen carcasses from their packed cages and dump them in nearby fields to be buried. Once this horrendous work was done, about 250 employees were fired without warning by the corporate farming business owned by billionaire Glen Taylor.(8)

Reading this information may be distressing. I know I feel overwhelmed thinking about the millions and billions of winged creaturekind suffering within factory farming systems globally. I can feel hopeless when I think about so many birds dying in this catastrophic epidemic.

An account in John’s gospel records the exact number of fishes the disciples caught in their net during one miraculous event. Following his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples after they had been fishing all night without success. When Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, suddenly they filled their nets with many fishes. The passage says, “So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them, and though there were so many, the net was not torn.”(9)

153 fishes. This was an unusually high number, especially after catching nothing. In fact, it was so miraculous the disciples then recognized Jesus as their resurrected Friend.

Despite the deaths of 153 fishes caught that night in the Sea of Galilee, I take comfort in knowing God saw every scale and dorsal fin of each fish. It makes me think of the God who sees every sparrow. Although they are small and seemingly insignificant to some, they are valued and cared for by God.(10)

We don’t live in biblical Galilee, and our societies are very different from then — including that our global population is much bigger now and farming methods have become heavily industrialized. As a result, in the world’s dominant farming systems, which are largely run by corporate agribusinesses, the number of creatures that are fished or farmed for food is staggeringly bigger than 153.11

God sees every hen suffering in factory farms, as they live through the grueling demands of unnaturally fast egg-laying cycles, which leave their bodies exhausted and spent until they are no longer profitable — and so they are killed at a much younger age than they would die naturally.

God sees every wild bird put at risk because of the volatile conditions brought about by factory farming and other industrialized human activities.

God sees every person caught up in such harmful systems without an easy path out.

God sees all beloved creaturekind who have been hurt or lost, including the trillions of non-human animals farmed for food.

Their numbers are so huge that we lose count; but God knows the exact number of creatures ensnared in our food systems and sees their every emotion, hoof, feather, and claw.

Let’s count them:

More than 140 million birds—mostly hens—have died in this epidemic.(12)

There are 7.5 billion egg-laying hens in the world, most living within factory-farming systems.(13)

These matters were very much on my heart earlier this year when I joined with the global Church on the journey through the Easter season. During that time each year, we communally express our yearning to see the end of the suffering and death caused by humans. We then celebrate the promise of rebirth and new life in Jesus.

Today, let’s give our consideration to the creatures who are too often hidden and forgotten in our celebrations — the hens who lay the eggs that are so central to many Easter traditions around the globe. Let’s bring our big emotions and sore hearts to God.

May the egg shortage draw us to see and name the evils that individual hens endure to produce eggs for people’s tables. We lament the places where misery reigns.

May the high cost of eggs call us to lament the cruel farming systems that are dangerously effective incubators for cultivating deadly viruses.

May we remember the precious lives of these creaturekind, who are wonderfully made and under the watchful eye of our Creator.

May we work toward new farming foodways where the hens who lay eggs for food are allowed to live and thrive.



  1. “Emergence and Evolution of H5N1 Bird Flu,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last accessed July 21, 2023,
  2. “Why Egg Prices Keep Going Up While Inflation is Going Down,” Vox, last modified Jan 12, 2023,
  3. Incidentally, there aren’t shortages or price spikes for chicken meat, because this virus tends to strike older birds; chickens raised for meat don’t live long enough – on factory farms they’re slaughtered at only six weeks old.
  4. John Vidal, “Bird Flu ‘an Urgent Warning to Move Away From Factory Farming’,” The Guardian, October 6, 2022,
  5. Brett Bundale, “Why Canada Has Avoided Egg Shortages, Major Price Spikes Seen in U.S., Global News, February 3, 2023,
  6. The situation is different in Canada, because relative to the US, the country has smaller, but more farms across the country. Whereas the average egg farm in the US has two million hens, the average farm in Canada has 25,000. (But let’s remember that Canada’s farms with 25,000 hens are still factory-farms!) When bird flu is detected on a farm, less hens have to be killed, and there’s less disruption to the supply of eggs to consumers.
  7.  Chris McGreal, “US Egg Factory Roasts Alive 5.3m Chickens in Avian Flu Cull – Then Fires Almost Every Worker,” The Guardian, April 28, 2022,
  8. McGreal, “U.S. Egg Factory.”]
  9. John 21:11, NRSVUE
  10. Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6.
  11. For fishes and other aquatic creatures that are wild-caught and farmed for food today, their numbers are so high they are commonly referred to by their collective weight rather than individual counts.
  12. Sophie Kevany, “Avian flu has led to the killing of 140m farmed birds since last October,” The Guardian, last modified December 9, 2022, Title the visitor sees.
    13. FAO, World Food and Agriculture - Statistical Yearbook 2020 (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2020),


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