Why there is no such thing as "humane" egg production on ANY scale, no matter how small – in a nutshell.
The most important and most overlooked ethical aspect of human consumption of hens' eggs is that, for every egg laying hen at the farm, a rooster chick has been murdered at the hatchery.
No matter where the egg production facility is, what its size is (large farm or backyard operation), and no matter what the 'visible to the public' conditions are, the egg-laying hens are obtained from the same hatcheries that kill the baby rooster chicks at only one day old. If the "free-range" farm hatches its own chicks, two important questions still remain.
1. What happens to ALL of the male chicks - not just few token roosters - but ALL of them?
2. What happens to the hens when they are no longer laying enough eggs for this facility to be profitable?
If the spent hens and ALL of the roosters were allowed to live out their lives until they died a natural death - chickens can live well over a decade - then that farm would soon have thousands of "spent" hens and roosters to care for. Obviously, the lifelong care of all of those birds, at all stages of a natural life span, would cut severely into any profits made by selling the eggs of younger hens.
So what happens to ALL of the boys? And what happens to ALL of the spent hens?
Hens are generally considered spent by egg-laying facilities at one to two years - meaning, the farm then has to provide predator-proof shelter, food, veterinary care, etc. for that same hen, for another decade. The roosters will require dozens of separate yards, predator-proof shelters, food, vet care, etc. for their entire lives.
In order to make a profit, the numbers simply don't add up unless the inevitable killing of roosters and spent hens is occurring.
Egg production on ANY scale, from hobby farms to factory farms, is predicated on the mass killing of "unproductive" birds—the male chicks (roosters), who do not lay eggs, and the hens themselves when they become "spent" (unable to lay eggs at a profitable rate), at 1.5 to 2.5 years of age, a fraction of a chicken's lifespan. The day-old roosters are killed by suffocation or maceration at the very hatcheries that supply backyard egg enthusiasts and big producers alike with laying hens. If the roosters are hatched on the farm, they are killed on the farm, usually as adolescents.
For more information about the cruelty and injustice inherent in ALL egg production, from backyard farms to factory farms, please see these links:
What Happens to the Roosters?
What Happens to the "Spent" Hens of Backyard Egg Farms?
Their Eggs, Not Ours
The Humane Egg
If living ethically is important to you, please remember that there is nothing humane about “humane” animal farming, just as there is nothing ethical or defensible about consuming its products. When confronted with the fundamental injustice inherent in all animal agriculture—a system that is predicated on inflicting massive, intentional and unnecessary suffering and death on billions of sentient individuals—the only ethical response is to strive to end it, by becoming vegan, not to regulate it by supporting “improved” methods of producing dairy, eggs, meat, wool, leather, silk, honey, and other animal products. For more information, please read The Humane Farming Myth. Live vegan and educate others to do the same.