In this series, I am providing answers to some of those incredibly annoying vegan questions we all get asked, sometimes on a daily basis! Stay tuned for more.

I was recently on a panel of academics at the Victoria & Albert Museum discussing what research says about promoting dietary change. As soon as the host asked if anyone’s questions, a child seated in the front row, probably about 12 or so, raised his hand as confidently as a rooster strutting about at 6am. He looked me dead in the eye and said: “But what about eating an un-fertelized egg? What’s wrong with that?” He immediately crossed his arms and continued to stare at me, now with a little smile of pride, as if to say: Game. Set. Match.

As much as I did not want to burst his bubble, this was not the first time I’d been asked this question. In fact, it was not even the twentieth.

Before I could even answer, however, the host became extremely excited, discussing his neighbors’ backyard hens. He concluded the story with a similar question: “Now, What’s wrong with eating their eggs?”

Well, in case you ever happen to be on a panel at the Victoria & Albert Museum and a very confident child asks you about eggs, while the host immediately follows up with a story about backyard hens… Or, I suppose if you get asked about this in any other situation…

There are two key reasons that backyard hens are not as innocent as people may think:

  1. The Boys: Male chicks, who grow up to become cocks (or, as Americans like to say, roosters), are of absolutely no use to the egg industry. Very few are used for breeding, so it is inevitable that however these hens were bred into existence, many or all of their brothers would have been killed shortly after birth. There’s also their tendency to crow, which can be a bit… noisy, and people tend to not like having them around for that reason, either.
  2. Genetics: In nature, hens normally lay about 10 to 15 eggs per year. Nowadays, however, they have been bred to produce more and more… and more… eggs. About 30 x more, sapping their bodies of vital nutrients. As a result, to protect their bones, organs, and fragile bodies, they would need about 25 to 30 x the calcium their bodies naturally produce. The strain on their bodies is simply too much and they suffer from horrifying medical conditions from a young age. A partial solution to this inhumane situation is to feed hens their eggs. In fact, if you simply leave the eggs where they are, they will usually eat them, which will help replenish some of the lost calcium.

Would love to hear your thoughts on why having backyard hens may not be as “harmless” as people think. And, of course…

Stay tuned for more answers to those Annoying Vegan Questions.

2 thoughts on “Backyard Hens

  1. I often get people who tell me they understand the reasons you gave (males being useless and the genetic frankenbird situation), but then they follow it up with some variation of “But I rescued my birds from a battery cage operation. I didn’t buy them, I didn’t fund ‘The System,’ and they’re still laying the eggs anyway, so I don’t see the harm in giving them a few to eat and taking some myself.”

    My response is along the lines of, “But simply by having the birds in your possession and taking what belongs to them, however innocuous it may appear to YOU, appears to your friends, family and neighbors that animal “use” is acceptable. It’s the *message* that’s being sent we need to be concerned with.”

    They usually come back with, “So I should have just left them at the farm to die?”

    I try to explain that rescuing them of course is ideal, but it’s the taking of their eggs–THEIR eggs–the eggs that don’t belong to YOU that is at issue here. Give them ALL back to the birds, or simply leave them be.

    What are your thoughts on this? Am I being too “militant?”


    1. I have two main thoughts about this really good question! First, I think when we look at the big picture and the number of hens being used for eggs globally, I’m less worried about this type of rescued hen situation. It’s great they’ve been rescued and if they are letting them eat their eggs, that sounds generally good for the hens themselves!

      My second thought is that if the hens aren’t eating all the eggs and some are left over, why not sell them or give them to people who would otherwise buy eggs from factory farms? This would be a great way to reduce the number of eggs bought from horrific conditions. I have volunteered at some vegan sanctuaries that do this and it seems to make a lot of sense! Of course there is a bigger question around exploitation and our relationship with animals as ‘objects’ and sources of food.


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