Egg-laying hens: no eyes or feathers?

Somebody recently told me that the hens used for laying eggs in the big factory-farms have no feathers and no eyes.

I know they’re confined to small cages, and have been bred solely for their egg-laying ability, but is it true they’re also featherless and blind? If so, were their feathers and eyes removed (ouch!), or were they born without feathers and eyeballs due to side-effects of their selective breeding?

If you cross your eyes and someone slaps you on the back, they will stay that way forever. It is true. Just ask your friend.

I have been in many commercial chicken houses. They are disgusting as a general rule but the chickens have eyes and feathers.

Hard to prove a negative, but it’s bullshit. Here’s a picture of some egg laying hens from a 3 second Google search (there were millions of pictures if you want to go look for yourself). Consider…what would be the point of breeding hens with no feathers or eyes? What would be the economical advantage? What would the return on investment be for companies doing this (even assuming it’s possible, which I doubt)?

When you say “commercial chicken houses”, are you talking about the ones that raise chickens for their meat, or the ones that raise chickens for their eggs?

It’s my understanding that, in the U.S. at least, the two are different enough and specialized enough that egg-laying houses don’t raise meat-chickens or vice-versa.

Yes they have feathers and eyes.

Interesting … the article associated with that picture does say that the chickens have eyes, but also contains this little tidbit:

“The chickens’ excretions pile up, and the resulting ammonia fumes become so strong that they burn the birds’ eyes, and blindness results.”

It may have been that my acquaintance was referring to the blinded, odd-looking eyeballs of the chickens, or couldn’t get close enough to tell whether their eyes were missing or simply discolored.
EDIT: Of course, the article also says “Chickens are sociable, intelligent animals,” and after having heard from people who actually have to deal with free-roaming chickens on farms and attest to how stupid they are, I gotta wonder how far this definition of “intelligent” goes. :wink:

Well, it might be the case that some chickens are blinded, but that’s different than stating they have no eyes. Same goes with the feathers…it might be the case that some chickens have lost some or even most of their feathers, but that’s different than claiming that laying chickens have no feathers. In the end, they are still chickens, not some sort of mutant egg laying machines designed by evil corporations for…well, gods know what anyone would think the benefit would be of chickens with no eyes and no feathers, or why anyone would breed them that way.

The bigger concern is how badly some chickens are treated in some of these big, industrial egg factories, but even there we are talking about a business, so it’s usually in the businesses best interest to have some minimal level of care for the animals if they want them to keep on laying eggs.

I’ve been in both but especially the egg houses. They are hellish places especially the Mexicans that are typically the ones that work in them but the chickens have eyes and feathers. The story is just made up but the only element to truth to it could be that chickens will sometimes gang up on other chickens and peck them to death and that may leave bald spots and eye damage on the victim.

My sister keeps a few hens for eggs. They are the same varieties used in commercial egg production, and they all have eyes and feathers.

There’s a possibly-biased article here about the conditions in commercial henhouses. If it’s to be believed, I think I’ve discovered how this acquaintance of mine might have gotten this eyeless-and-featherless impression when looking at the hens.

Regarding eyes, the article says:

Regarding feathers, the article says:

I suspect he mistook the discolored, blinded eyes for empty eye sockets, and the lack of feathers on some parts of the body as a total lack of feathers altogether.

I once had a janitor at UC Davis tell me that someone had once bred a featherless chicken, with the idea that it would save the expense of plucking. The idea was supposed to have been scrapped because the birds sunburned too easily. I make no claims as to the validity of the story.

The “sociable” includes the roosters fighting, too, so anyone thinking of having a few chickens in their back yard had better make sure there’s only one (or no) rooster. And if you are set on only eating the eggs, not the chickens, remember that half of any eggs you allow to hatch out will be male. You’re going to have to find something to do with the extra males.

For what it’s worth, the fact that it was UC Davis makes it slightly more plausible, as Davis is somewhat more “ag” oriented than most UC campuses. For one thing, the veterinary school is there, IIRC the only one in the UC system.

If I don’t start crying, it’s because that I have got no eyes!
–Attribution left as an exercise for the reader. The word that is not a mistake, the line really goes like that and works perfectly for the song.

That shouldn’t be a problem in a factory farm though, if they are kept inside their entire lives.

As for the OP, if one thinks that eyeless/featherless chickens is extreme, there were articles earlier this year talking about brainless chickens, although one would think that performing surgery (the stated method) to remove the higher brain centers would reduce the profitability, unless they could be bred to have minimal brain function (supposedly, it would eliminate animal cruelty because they can’t feel anything, and allow more chickens in the same space).

It seems much more likely is that your friend is transmitting a garbled version of the hoary “KFC changed their name because they aren’t really chickens anymore, just meat with tubes sticking out of it” urban legend.

Just to show there is nothing new under the sun, there was also Mike the Headless Chicken that is quite the piece Americana. In short, a farmer in 1945 accidently left the life-support centers in the lower brain in place when he attempted to prepare Mike for dinner using an ax much like the surgery described in the article. Mike lost his head but seemed to do just fine without it and toured around for quite some time causing quite the stir.

Any animal rights activist that wants to claim chickens are intelligent hasn’t actually been around them much. The term ‘running around like a chicken with its head cut off’ isn’t just a saying. They really do that if you don’t contain them once they are decapitated. They don’t usually live long because they need their heads to eat and stop the blood from gushing out from the top but not for much else.

Ya know what they don’t have? Cocks.


Oom bip bip, oom bip bip, yeah!

“Intelligence” in animals is difficult to quantify - all those lists of “most intelligent dog breed” are actually lists of the breeds which tend to be the most amenable to training.

Chickens are also amenable to training.

Most cities (implied by your “back yard” phrasing) won’t allow roosters at all, I assume on noise grounds. And if you’re keeping the chickens only for their eggs, there’s no point in letting any of them hatch at all (not that they would, without a rooster): When your first generation of hens dies off, you just buy more. They’re only a few dollars each.

Davis also has Avian Sciences. I don’t know if it’s a department or part of a larger department. That was where he claimed to have worked when he heard about the experiment.

And Michael63129, it’s been fifteen years or more since I heard the story. He said the professor who did the breeding had retired, so it might have been another ten to twenty years from the time he heard about it. Throw in the possibility that he heard it from someone else, and we might be talking about a time when most chickens were in various kinds of outside pens.

Of course, I’d be willing to believe both that feathers protect against more than just sunburn, and that the whole thing started as a BS story that the janitors told to the new guys. “He bought it. Now tell him about the time they thought that square eggs would be cheaper to stack and transport.”