I read Temple Grandin\’s Animals Make Us Human recently. You know Temple Grandin, the scientist responsible for making animal handling and slaughter facilities more humane and less stressful for the cows and pigs that move through them. She is also severely autistic, and an advocate for people with autism and their families. And she is a major figure in my pantheon of contemporary saints.
In the book, she says that battery hens are the most abused animals on industrial farms: crowded into tiny cages, fed unspeakably bad diets, and inhumanely slaughtered at barely two years of age. And one of the worst stresses inflicted on these hens is that they are forced to lay their eggs in a brightly-lit room. The hen, according to Grandin, when she is about to lay, has a deep-seated instinct to repair to a dark and hidden place, and when that instinct is frustrated, she suffers.
My own six hens lead comparatively idyllic lives, with plenty of indoor and outdoor space, deep hay to scratch in, and healthy, even delicious (to a chicken) food. But until now they had been laying their eggs in a couple of hay-filled plastic milk crates that I casually stashed in a corner of their coop. There was nothing dark or hidden about these nests, and I was appalled that I had inflicted this unnecessary stress on my hens.
I pleaded their case to my in-house self-sufficiency enabler, and in a trice he built a lovely plywood roof that overhangs the nests, with a hinge to allow me to reach in and collect the eggs.
Now, while the outside world goes about its frantic business, a hen can hop up on the darkened nest, turn around several times, center herself, and do her thing as Nature intended.