Last updated 22 September 2020

Layer hen being gasedLayer hen being suffocated with CO2 gas.

After 12-14 months of laying (from when they are approximately 4-6 months old), hens’ rates of egg production will have slowed to the point they are no longer considered ‘financially viable’ or ‘useful’. These hens are declared ‘spent’ and are killed. Some farms kill hens on site while others send them to slaughterhouses. There are no specific guidelines for the mass killing of ‘spent’ layer hens in Australia. Eggs Australia outlines the established killing methods for hens on site are:

  • Neck dislocation or decapitation
  • Captive bolt gun
  • Electrical methods, involving the application of electrical currents to hens’ heads
  • Gassing hens either in a container or whole shed, using carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or argon
  • Maceration (grinding or blending them up alive in an industrial ‘macerator’)
  • Asphyxiation with foam

Investigations have revealed the horrors that layer hens experience during farm depopulations. See the footage and decide for yourself if you think gassing hens is humane and ethical.

Hens taken to the slaughterhouse are first ‘depopulated’, removed from sheds by workers and forced into small crates, before they are trucked to the slaughterhouse. Many suffer broken and fractured bones during this process, and it is not uncommon for their legs, wings or heads to get caught between the crates and the bars on the slaughter truck.

When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, hens are shackled upside down by their feet, their heads then dragged through an electrified body of water known as a stun bath, before their cuts are cut and they are bled out. While the stun bath is supposed to render poultry unconscious before they are slaughtered, a number of exposés have revealed birds commonly lifting their head and avoiding it completely, leading them to be fully conscious when their throats are cut, and even still conscious when they are immersed in a tank of scalding water intended to loosen their feathers prior to plucking. Other legally accepted methods of slaughtering poultry include neck dislocation and decapitation.