The term ‘free range’ applies to the conditions hens live in while they produce eggs for human consumption, and it is intended as a more compassionate alternative to battery farming.
However, the term ‘free range’ is a little misleading as it doesn’t mean the egg production process is free from animal suffering and death.
All egg-laying hens, no matter where they end up, begin their lives in hatcheries, factories where chickens’ eggs are intensively incubated and hatched. After hatching, male and female chicks are sorted from one another as only the female chicks will grow up to lay eggs. The male chicks cannot be sold on to egg farms so they are killed on the first day of their lives, by methods which include gassing and being ground up alive. There is no way to avoid this as male chicks inevitably make up around half of the hatched eggs.
The hens, while they may fare better on a free range farm than a battery farm, are sadly also destined for an early grave – egg production peaks at around one to two years, and when a hen is no longer productive enough for the farm’s needs she is usually killed for low-grade meat, far earlier than her natural life span of around eight years (source).
For more information check out our Animals section.