Cage cruelty before the kill
By Renu Warnasuriya and Lakmali Jayasinghe
in a wire-mesh world, there is no room to roost, stand or flap.
Baking in the scorching sun for two or three days, they are piled
on top of each other. This "transport cage" is just one
of the miseries a chicken has to go through, on its journey to your
Stacks of such
cages are a common sight along the roadsides. Stuffed against each
other, the birds can barely move to reach the scanty bits of food
thrown into the cages. In some cases, the birds even suffer broken
bones and injured legs.
them unnecessary space causes more injury and pain because they
are jolted about. Yet, overcrowding is bad in the case of all animals,"
concedes All Island Poultry Association President Dr. D. Wanasinghe.
Association together with the Ministry of Livestock and Agriculture
has issued a circular under the Cruelty to Animals Act, defining
the minimum space allowed per animal during transport and police
can take action against this cruel practice.
being transported in these wire prisons, broilers and egg-layers
that comprise the poultry industry of the country have two different
fates. Broilers form 70% of the industry and are processed as meat
while the other 30%, are egg-layers. A broiler is grown for 38 to
42 days before it is "dressed for the market" and halal
and non-halal are the two slaughtering practices in use.
layer chickens, broilers have a comfortable life. For some layers,
battery cages, each one and a half feet high and eight feet wide,
are home from the time they are just 14 to 16 weeks old.
The cages are
designed in such a manner that conveyor belts are built in to collect
the eggs. Food and drink are passed through small gutters attached
to the front of the cages. The birds have to reach out through the
iron bars to eat and sometimes get their necks entangled in the
The cages can
go up to six storeys and trays beneath each wired floor collect
the droppings. Restriction of movement is one of the major problems
with the cages. The space given to each bird is the size of an A-4
paper, just enough room to stand or roost. The wire mesh floor cuts
into their flesh injuring their scrawny legs.
Once the egg
production period of a layer is over, it is slaughtered and sold
as curry chicken. However the cages have many economic advantages.
The egg production is high because of the feeding system, which
allows each bird to get the right amount of food and water. These
types of cages also prevent the birds pecking each other and the
spread of diseases.
Dr. Wanasinghe less than 1% of poultry farmers in Sri Lanka use
these cages currently, but the trend is increasing and bigger farms
are also getting them. "This is a very selfish way of farming
as every animal should have the freedom to move till it is slaughtered,"
some big layer farms are using battery cages, Nel Farms Director
Shiraz Geevunjee said, "We use a cage which is larger than
a battery cage."
Another owner of a large egg-producing farm who did not wish to
be identified said they were using the "wire floor" system,
where hens are allowed to roam freely on a wire floor. "This
prevents the eggs from getting contaminated by the droppings,"
he said. The farm has imported two battery houses on a trial basis.
Other Sri Lankan
layer farms use the traditional method, the deep litter system,
in which the birds are let loose in a restricted area. Each bird
gets an area of 1.5 to 2 square feet. Chickens which cease to lay
eggs early face severe repercussions in the form of "forced
They are kept
for four days in a pitch-black environment with no food or water
which results in all their feathers dropping off. Gradually, they
are given food, water and light to revitalize them to start laying
eggs. Though this practice is rare, it happens in small farms.
Living in these
battery cages, hens peck at each other, causing severe injuries.
Such wounds if they get infected can even lead to the death of some
birds. They also peck at the eggs and as this leads to economic
losses, farmers have come up with a solution - de-beaking or cutting
off their beaksThis process, first resorted to in the 1940s, is
practised all over the world on layer farms. Some farmers de-beak
the birds on the first day after hatching to minimize the pain while
others do it when the bird is between 14 to 20 weeks. Some birds
are de-beaked twice in their lifetime.
of de-beaking are used in Sri Lanka. Under the traditional method,
a pair of sharp scissors or a heated blade is used to cut off either
one-third or two-thirds of the beak from the point, after which
the remainder of the beak is held against a hot iron to prevent
bleeding and infection. This process of "singeing" is
used mainly on small farms. "Sri Lanka does not have the infrastructure
to check this process in small farms," says Dr.Wanasinghe.
Larger farms use the de-beaking machine like the guillotine, which
has a hole through which the beak is placed. Then a heated blade
drops down making a clean cut.
Association has held seminars and workshops to train farmers on
the use of this machine. "De-beaking is less painful than the
pain they inflict on themselves. It is done for the welfare of the
birds and is essential for layers," says Dr.Wanasinghe.
Veterinary surgeon Dr. Percy Goonatilake, a consultant at Ceylon
Grain Elevators says, "The practice is common and essential
but it is definitely painful." How much pain the chick endures
depends on how the de-beaking is done. The beak does have a sensitive
area, which should not be included in the section that is cut.
person, however, may accidentally cut this part as well. Inexperienced
de-beaking could lead to tumours being formed in the healed stump
of the beak. "Chicks shriek even when they are touched. If
done properly, de-beaking does not cause any pain, but careless
handling can cause severe pain," says Dr. Senerath Karunaratne,
the vet at the Ethul Kotte Animal Hospital.
does require certain practices that may seem barbaric. If they need
to be carried out they must be done humanely and as painlessly as
possible. As Mahatma Gandhi said, " The greatness and morality
of a nation must be judged by the way it treats its animals".
for an egg
are de-beaked while prawns have their eyes cut off, all for the
sake of eggs.
Black Tiger Shrimps are the most commonly used prawns for breeding
among the 40 harvesters in Sri Lanka.
Two types of
this shrimp are caught by the fishermen and sold to harvesters -
females with and without eggs. On prawn farms, these shrimps are
kept in hatcheries in tanks where deep-sea conditions are created.
that inhibit a female from maturing and producing eggs are located
in the eyestalk and the eye. On the fourth or the fifth day, one
of the eyes of those that are without eggs is removed with a pair
of scissors or a sharp blade, while the prawns are in the water
itself and antibiotics added to the water to prevent infection.
is knows as "eye ablation" and four to five days after,
the prawns mature. After the first delivery, even those which had
eggs in the first place, face eye ablation.
farms, people simply crush the eye without bothering to cut it,"
said a harvester who did not wish to be identified.
was discovered in Japan and is a common practice in prawn hatcheries,
where trained people carry out the process. Another person stressed
that if eye ablation is not done carefully, the prawn could die
causing losses for the farmers.