David and I spent the weekend visiting his parents in Palm Springs.
Palm Springs is about six hours from Tucson, a straight shot on the I-10. We decided to take a slightly different route on the way back in order to avoid the downtown Phoenix area and to get a little change of scenery. The first leg of this Phoenix by-pass route takes you on route 85, a rural highway. We were actually enjoying the relaxed driving and desert views (lovely palo verde trees this time of year) when I spotted what appeared to be a series of large buildings set way back off the highway. My now- trained eye knew instantly that this was a factory farm complex. But it didn’t take an expert (or vegan as the case may be) to clue us into the fact that we were in factory farm land. The stench wafted into the car even with the windows closed. I cracked the window just to get a sense of what this actually smelled like. It was truly overwhelming and we were really nowhere near the place and driving 80 miles an hour.
Interestingly, along this same stretch of highway we also passed a large prison complex and a nuclear power plant. You know, the places we don’t want in our neighborhood so we can all be safe (and maybe ignore that places like this exist?)
When I got home I went online, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the factory farming operation belonged to Hickman’s Family Farms, Arizona’s largest egg producer. You can take a look at Hickman’s operations by checking out their website here. It looks like such a happy place and such a sweet history with grandma and all. Smiles all around. They seem particularly proud of their incredible efficiency. Is this what you envision when you think of an egg farm? They are also anxious to share how impressively they have grown since those early days in grandma’s yard. Here’s what it looks like today (in their words from their website):
Our buildings now cover 2 million square feet, equivalent to 7 football fields;
Our processing capacity for shell eggs is ¾ million eggs per hour;
We are able to will be able to break, pasteurize and package 100,000 eggs per hour;
We can boil, peel and package 50,000 eggs per hour;
We have hens and pullets in Arizona and Colorado, egg processing and distribution in Iowa, and distribution warehouses in Las Vegas, Nevada and El Centro, California;
We service customers located from Iowa to Hawaii;
We consume the production of approximately 50,000 acres of grain products a year. (That is 78 square miles.) Another way to think of it is, we use a train of grain, one mile long, every month;
Our feed mill makes a 26-ton semi-load of feed every 18 minutes;
We repurpose everything possible – including 800,000 lbs. per day of chicken manure. Our fertilize division ships organic, dried, pelletized, bagged or bulk fertilizer throughout the state and southern California;
We have about 300 full-time employees.
Oh, they are working very hard here not to say much about the chickens. My particular favorite is “we consume the production of approximately 50,000 acres of grain products a year”. Who is “WE”?! Well, turns out, as best I could glean from the internet (couldn’t find the info on their site), they have some four million chickens that are crammed floor to ceiling in their “lay houses”. These chickens have their beaks sliced off and are put in “battery cages”where they stay until they die or are killed. Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary wrote an excellent and compelling article describing the plight of the battery-caged chicken here. He points out that 95% of egg-laying hens are housed this way in factory farms like Hickman’s.
Buying and consuming eggs directly supports this horrendous industry. Hickman’s and others like them can crow all they want about their efficiency. I call it a travesty.