On many egg farms, hens in the egg industry are forced to molt. Chickens naturally grow a new set of feathers in autumn; this is called ”molting”. Forced molting is induced by keeping the hens in darkness and putting the hens under stress, which is usually done by withholding food for a period of about two weeks. The purpose of this cruel practice is to boost the flock’s production, egg quality, and ultimately, profitability of older hens during their later laying seasons. Egg-laying hens, as they are called, live about 2 years before their production has declined to such a point that they are worth more as meat than they are as “producers”. When not treated as egg-laying machines, chickens can naturally live to the ripe old age of 20.
Forced molting has been outlawed in many states and countries outside of the U.S. because of animal welfare laws. However, the alternative to forced molting is to simply send them off to slaughter once their production declines, rather than attempting to boost their output via forced molting.