July 6 in The Oregonian
Greg Satrum rubs his hands with sanitizer just inside the hen house door and the nearest hundred chickens pull their heads back into dark wire cages, racecar red combs flopping across their skulls and beaks. When he stands still, the hens quickly rejoin thousands of other white leg horns, stretching their necks through a slit to a feed trough mechanically filled five times a day and dully lit by a long red bulb.
“We keep it dim because it reduces their aggression,” says Satrum, owner of Willamette Egg Farms south of Canby and president of the Northwest Poultry Council.
Each of these 18,000-square-foot buildings house 60,000 chickens in conventional cages stacked three-high and lining aisles nearly the length of a football field. The birds stand shoulder to shoulder in cages the size of a file cabinet drawer. Beneath each layer is a wide gray belt that catches droppings and moves them during cleaning every other day. Narrow conveyor belts and mechanical ladders carry the eggs from the barns to the adjacent processing plant.
Under a new law, these cages will be torn down.
By 2026, hens must be moved into enriched colony cages with more space and more perks, like perches, scratching pads and nesting boxes. The law also requires farmers selling eggs in the state to follow care standards set by a board of scientific advisors for the American Humane Association, the United States’ first organization to certify animal products as humane.
Oregon is the one of the first states to implement space standards for egg-laying hens, just a few weeks behind Washington. Regional egg industry leaders accepted the new law as a compromise, but animal rights organizations are divided. The Oregon Humane Society supports the changes while the Humane Society of the United States says the new law doesn’t do enough.
A group backed by the Humane Society of the United States, Oregonians for Humane Farms, is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to eliminate chicken cages altogether, arguing that the law creates an illusion of reform and only barely improves the quality of life for hens.
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