Starving hens to hasten molting is now an offence
In India, millions of hens are starved to speed up molting - a natural process of feather loss and re-growth that can take several months - in order to regulate egg laying. But from Friday, this practice has been made an offence by the Animal Welfare Board of India.
The "starvation force molting" of egg-laying hens is violative of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, the AWBI said Friday.
The AWBI's order came after a petition filed by the Humane Society of India (HSI) highlighting the cruel practice that affects over 200 million egg-laying hens in the country, HSI spokesperson N. G. Jayasimha said.
"This is a punishable offence. All egg-laying poultry farm owners and integrators are directed to ensure that starvation force molt regime is discontinued with immediate effect," the AWBI order said.
Jayasimha explained that chickens molt their plumage annually in a process of feather loss and re-growth that can take several months. During this natural molting process, hens may either reduce their egg output or stop laying eggs totally.
"So, depending on economic factors affecting the marketplace, such as egg prices that are currently high, hens used for commercial egg production are either depopulated and replaced with younger pullets after a year, or they may be kept for a second egg-laying cycle following a forced molt," he said.
The method of force-molting speeds up the natural molt process and causes a temporary regression of the reproductive tract and cessation of egg-laying.
This regime, "starvation force molting", involves keeping the hen without food for two weeks, including a couple of days without water and decrease in daylight hours.
By this, the hens can lose up to one-third of their body weight and become highly stressed and display signs of "extreme distress such as increased aggression and the formation of stereotyped pacing".
Later, after the starvation forced molting regime is withdrawn, the hens again start laying at the rate of average one egg per day.
There are an estimated 200 million egg-laying hens in the country which produce an average of one egg per 24-hour cycle.
A majority of the egg-laying hen farms are situated in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and around the national capital region.