One of the most pervasive myths about eggs from modern chickens is that they are “natural” and so “just happen.” This makes a convenient excuse for humans to continue taking and consuming hens’ eggs, no matter the costs for both female and male chickens.
The reality is that every egg from a modern hen is the direct result of selective breeding by humans, for humans. Modern domesticated hens lay 20-30 times as many eggs as their wild ancestors, the red jungle fowl of southeast Asia, and the results of this hyper-specific breeding are devastating to the hens themselves. Reproductive disorders are the primary cause of mortality for all laying breeds of hens, and hens cannot escape their own genetic programming.
One temporary relief that vegan caregivers can provide is a hormonal “implant,” like a microchip, called Suprelorin (deslorelin acetate). By shutting down ovulation for a few months, the implants allow hens to avoid the pain and laying-related health complications they otherwise so frequently experience. The implants, especially when used preventatively, save lives.
While you may often hear horrible tales of miserable hens, the majority of chicken caregivers who use implants will rave about them. It’s important, if you are interested in using them, to do your research, find a knowledgeable vet, and listen to the experiences of experienced caregivers to understand how much of a positive difference implants can make. (We may also be able to help through our Reproductive Healthcare Fund!)
We are thrilled to share the experiences of Karina Donhardt, who runs the Garden of Edhen microsanctuary in Australia.
We began hen rescue here at Garden of Edhen by adopting 13 ISA Brown ex-commercial layer hens who were scheduled for slaughter as is typical at around 18 months old.
As were new to adopting ex-layer hens, we were surprised when 4 of them developed life-threatening complications with their egg laying before they even reached 2 years of age. The unnaturally high egg-laying rate that selective breeding had already forced their reproductive systems to endure in their short lives clearly was having a severe affect on their bodies.
The fact that these hens had already laid hundreds and hundreds of eggs in their short lives had caused oviduct scarring that resulted in such difficulty in egg laying it caused temporary paralysis, infections in their oviducts from eggshells getting stuck, and EYP (Egg Yolk Peritonitis).
Our first 3 hens to suffer complications, Sasha, Danni, and Sydney, were able to completely recover and go on to thrive when their Avian Vet prescribed antibiotics and implanted them with Suprelorin to cease egg laying. But when Angela, our 4th hen got ill, her EYP was so severe that the vet was unable to save her life.
Angela’s passing, and the fact that already 4 out of 13 of our precious ladies had suffered dangerous egg-laying complications within 6 months of being adopted, led us to the realisation that we would clearly be risking their lives by allowing their egg laying to continue. It was also obvious that the risks to our beloved hen’s health were also logically only going to increase in rate as their reproductive systems got older and more ravaged by egg laying practically daily.
So we had our avian vet also implant our remaining 9 hens to cease egg laying as a precaution to prevent further suffering that was inevitably coming if they continued laying incessantly.
Of the 13 hens we’ve continuously had implanted over the past couple years, the majority only had a brief negative adjustment period to the initial implant, and none of our hens have ever experienced any negative affects at all with the sequential implants.
All our hens experienced a reduction in appetite only after the initial implant, with a brief period of weight loss followed directly after by a far more significant weight gain.
Our hens still now eat far less food than they used to eat when they were egg laying, yet they have all gained notable weight, due to not having the huge daily nutrient drain required for them to produce each egg. Another benefit of this is that there’s far less poop being produced now too.
Every single hen we’ve implanted has gained a minimum of 20% extra body weight, and the majority of them have gained 30% extra body weight. According to their avian vet this weight gain has been all muscle, which doesn’t surprise me as they are all far more athletic than when they were laying, jumping much higher now and running much faster too.
The next most commonly experienced negative affect of the initial implant was a significant feather moult, as their incessant egg laying had prevented their ability to go into moult before.
Some hens had minor feather loss and otherwise seemed unaffected, whereas the majority had a far more obvious feather moult and seemed more subdued while their feathers initially began growing back. This isn’t too surprising as it’s obviously not likely to be comfortable to have lots of pin feathers growing though at once, and is also a little draining to grow a large amount of new feathers. During this period we gave them added high-protein treats to help replace the increased protein used to grow feathers.
Every single hen now has far more lush and smooth plumage of more vibrant colours, with obviously thicker and more rounded tails, as you can see from their photos.
Now that our hens are all continuously implanted, they are able to slowly feather moult which is barely noticeable, so none of them have ever had a significant feather moulting again.
Only few of our hens struggled more to adapt to the very first implant they received, and were much less active initially and appeared somewhat spaced out, but that only last a few weeks maximum. They perked up considerably once their feathers started progress in growth.
The hens who had most obvious negative affects from the initial implant were those who were implanted because they were suffering a life-threatening illness from their egg laying in the first place. So it appears evident to us that that the healthier they are when they’re initially implanted, the less negative affects they experience adjusting to it.
The most obvious improvement we have experienced after implanting all our hens is that they are clearly less stressed. They aren’t driven to ferociously eat from sun up to sun down to get enough nutrients produce their daily egg. Now they don’t yell at us the minute they see us desperate seeking more new foods, even though they already have multiple feeders and fresh fruit & veg giving them constant access to food.
The single biggest positive effect of implanting our hens is that they’re now very rarely ill, and none of our hens have died from reproductive problems in the 2.5 years we’ve been using preventative implants. I’m not claiming implants will make layer hens immortal, but they clearly dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, all the most common causes of death in commercial layer hen breeds.
In the first year after we began implanting all our hens, we lost 2 ladies to systemic cancer. Our avian vet said she suspects these cancers were already existing before we began implanting, but that the implant highly likely at least slowed the cancer progression. This opinion appears to be supported by the fact that we’ve had absolutely no hens experience serious health problems or cancer in the past 18 months.
Whilst some people dislike hormone implants for hens because they say it’s not “natural,” what you need to be aware of is the fact that all domestic chickens are descended from Red Jungle Fowl, who still exist in the wild and lay only 12-20 eggs annually. Therefore implants are bringing layer hens bodies back to a far closer resemblance of the “natural” laying rate they should have.
ISA Brown hens have an average life expectancy of 3 years. As our 11 remaining hens vary from over 4 years through to 5.5 years old, it’s statistically evident that implanting all our hens has clearly saved many of their lives.
Whilst this was obviously our aim when we began implanting them all, what we hadn’t expected at the beginning was the dramatic improvements to their physique, athletic ability, and stress levels. Which in turn, because we love our hens, has also improved our lives dramatically too.