Dear Woolworths Campaign Feedback Page Number II

In October 2009 we met with Julian Novak, head of Woolworths Food around Woolworths' claim to be "...the first retailer in South Africa to sell only free range eggs – we think our hens enjoy having space to behave like hens should.", while using battery eggs in all their food.

Dear Woolworths Feedback

Julian committed to making the switch to using free range eggs in food, by building a new free-range liquid egg factory in Cape Town, and said that the first 70 products would hit the shelves in April 2010. In the meantime they would remove all the instore signs which had caused many customers to feel mislead. When no products made with free-range egg appeared on the shelves in April... June.... July.... or August, and the instore signs remained up - we took Woolworths to task, and met up with Julian and his team on 20 August, 2010 to ask why they had reneged on their commitments. Citing 'optimism' and 'implementation being more challenging than anticipated' as the reasons, Julian Novak said they were as committed as ever to the switch, that things were now on track, and promised that the 1st 60 lines made with free-range egg would hit Woolworths' shelves on 1st October 2010.

The 60 products will be labelled as being made with free-range egg, and will not change in price. Julian said that all signs had now also been taken down. When asked for a progress report on the new factory - he admitted that building hadn't yet begun, but that planning was underway, and the factory would be up and running at least by June 2011. He said Woolworths will then assess costings at the end of October, and decide on how to roll out the remaining 630 product lines currently made with battery egg - stressing that they are fully committed to this.

View the minutes here

About Chicken Rescue and Rehabilitation
Chicken Rescue and Rehabilitation (CRR) was started by Candy Ristic. CRR, rescues, rehabilitates and re homes ex battery hens.

This has however started to spread to re homing confiscated hens and roosters, unwanted pet chickens, the odd duck, goose, peacock. CRR has a sanctuary out in the Magaliesburg mountains where many of the hens are placed to live out the rest of their natural lives.
CRR The hens free range in the veld during the day, and are securely locked up at night away from predators. If chickens are re homed, a pre home inspection is always done. CRR’s aim is to allow these abused birds to heal, rehabiliate, and know what it is to be cared for and loved for as long as they are around.
"In May 2010 my path crossed that of Candy Ristic via a group called Compassion in World Farming. Candy is the founder of “Chicken as pets not food – Chicken Rescue and Rehabilitation”. (They also have a Facebook page.) This organisation rescues and rehabilitates ex battery hens and aims to raise awareness around the cruelty of factory farming. To make a long story short, I picked up our two battered battery hens from Candy on 2 May 2010 and brought them home to our chicken h(e)aven here in Florauna, Pretoria ...

Gin & Tonic

... Gin and Tonic (Above), as we named them, were extremely traumatised and nearly died of shock when they first heard the neighbour’s dog bark. We put them up in a cardboard box in our bathroom for the first two nights while we had a wooden house built especially for them."

Chicken Rescue and Rehab

(continued) ... "They soon became very happy “duracell divas” who love taking chances to join us indoors. We love them very much and I LOVE picking them up and carrying them around – mainly to inspect the regrowth of feathers lost in their cramped living conditions at the battery farm – but secretly to cuddle and kiss."

"They adore spending time with us and when we sit outside, they immediately run up to us (and our guests) to demand their little bite or drink ;-). Gin and Tonic are pure joy to watch and have given me back my own personal joy: And for that, I will alway love them. Our hope is to create awareness regarding the horrible conditions at battery farms."

Please read more about Candy Ristic’s organisation at

Opinion on "Debeaking" / "Trimming" from Louise van der Merwe (Compassion in World Farming SA)

Let it not be forgotten that chickens are not naturally cannibalistic. They have a pecking order that works beautifully as long as the flock does not exceed 100 per acre.  

The reason for debeaking is that a battery cage environment is so stressful that  they become aggressive and there is nowhere to run during their attempts to establish a pecking order.

And once they tear the skin and draw blood, they keep on pecking. Pecking is a natural behaviour of chickens (scientists say that in natural conditions they make 15 000 pecks a day) but pecking at each other is forced upon them in a battery cage where there is nothing else to peck at or do. Then, on free range, several thousand birds are flocked together at an unnatural density, completely disabling their ability to establish a successful pecking order. Because they can at least move away from each other, the lesser operation of beak trimming is opted for.

But cannibalism is not a natural behaviour of the chicken.

Indeed, in a natural environment, one is amazed at their wonderful nurturing of each other – dust-bathing together, sun-bathing together, grooming each other’s combs and so on. When the time comes for the chicks to be weaned off their mother – i.e. it is deemed that the chick should find its own perch at night and not take shelter under the mother’s wing any more, the other hens help this process along by forming a dense little group, with the mother hidden between them – forcing the unhappy chicks to find their own perch for the night. This only happens when the chicks are properly feathered and more than able to fend for themselves. But, what I am trying to illustrate here is that they co-operate and help each other. They are not cannibals and we should not excuse our own abysmal behaviour towards them but soothing ourselves with the false idea that they are cannibalistic.

When it comes to the way the hen will defend her young... what can I say! I’ve seen a former battery hen defend 12 new-born chicks against a hawk. And she didn’t lose one.
To all of you who joined the campaign by writing articles, sending e-mails, signing the petition and talking on camera - asking Woolworths to please stop using battery eggs in all their food ... thank you.

But what is Free Range in South Africa?

"Free range is a brilliant marketing term." says Angus McIntosh (Owner of Spier Biodynamic Farm).  "Everyone buying free range chicken, beef or lamb is buying into the idea that the animal is free to range. Sadly this is not the case."

Angus says that "free range" boiler chickens (chickens raised for meat, genetically modified to go from 0 to slaughter in 6 weeks to maximise profit) are called "free-range" even when they are cooped up in barns, with limited access to the “free range” via "pop-holes", which are sealed in bad weather. Even by EU standards "free-range" farms are only obliged to have 1 pophole, measuring 1m wide and 45cm high - per 700 birds...making access to the free range rather a bun fight.  "Considering their food, water and shelter is inside why would they venture out?" says Angus.  They are also only obliged to provide 6 hours of continual darkness per 24 hour cycle, which obviously isn't natural, and would make most of us feel sleep deprived!

Angus finishes by saying : "Like their conventional sisters and cousins they (free-range chickens) are also debeaked. This mutilation is done to avoid cannibalism. If these birds were so free to range then why would they resort to cannibalism which comes from too many birds being in too close proximity to each other?"


ABOVE PIC : Egg Layers mobile home on Spier Biodynamic Farm

by Angus McIntosh

(Owner of Spier Biodynamic Farm)
But what is Free Range in South Africa? There are two types of chickens being spoken about in the free range guideline document. Broilers, and layers. Broilers are chickens genetically modified to go from 0 to slaughter in 6 weeks. Layers are hens that are used for egg production.

Broilers are bred and modified for the meat industry. A broiler goes from 0 to slaughter in 6 weeks. A ‘normal chicken would get to grown up size 18 to 25 weeks. This means that their growth is accelerated. This acceleration has all sorts of unpleasant complications for the bird. Growing pains, weak heart, skeletal weaknesses, and low muscle tone – often resulting in the birds becoming lame. Their accelerated weight gain does not happen in proportion to their legs developing strong enough muscles to hold up their bodies. Although broilers are physically large enough to be slaughtered, their emotional and psychological development is that of a tiny fluffy chick at the time of slaughter. To handle a young broiler is quite disturbing. This large grotesque body that peeps like a chick, and seeks your constant protection as it would from its mother at this age. Whether that chicken is free range or not, they are still broilers. The majority of  chicken meat that is eaten are broilers.

Laying hens are used in the production of eggs. There is no dispute that battery farming is cruel practice. The practice of putting a hen in a wire cage no bigger than an A4 page, and taking eggs from her daily for a year, depriving her of sunlight, the ability to walk around, dust bath, socialise appropriately, spread her wings, and be appropriately stimulated by her environment is an unacceptable practice. After her year of laying, she is sent to slaughter either for pets mince, or to the informal traders who sell in informal settlements for backyard slaughter.  Slowly this practice is being done away with in certain countries around the world, but not here in SA. Buying non free range eggs is just a no - no. So we can agree that any type of egg farming that allows a hen to walk around and spread her wings, is a step up. And this step up, is labelled free range.  However is it enough of a step up to say ‘this is ok’?

There is a perception out there, that if it is labelled free range, then the hens are having a fabulous time in a pasture living a natural life. This however is very rarely the case. They are usually living in a sterile barn type environment, with a possibility of going into a yard type set up. Broilers very rarely move far from the food, which is placed inside. Their accelerated growth creates a need for them to constantly eat, and drink. All my broilers have had a minor diahorrea despite good diet and introduction of pro biotics into their diet. I believe, from my observations, that their digestive systems have never developed appropriately.  Many broilers are also lethargic (again from accelerated growth), and too fat for their own legs to comfortably walk around. Layers are more mobile, and may make more use of the ‘free range’ environment offered. Hens are bred for laying. The breeding of these hens also produces male chicks. These male chicks are gassed or macerated (ground up live in a grinder/ chopper) for pets mince – male chicks have no value.

Both broilers and layers reach a point (broilers at 6 weeks, and layers after aprox 300 days of laying), where they are sent for slaughter. There are very few chicken farms that do on site slaughter, and therefore there is a need for transportation of these birds to abattoir. This transportation process is stressful. The chickens are handled roughly, and are often transported in extreme weather conditions. The mortality rate is high. At abattoir these birds are mostly shackled. Hung upside down to have their throats slit. Humane killing or euthanasia is the combination of losing function and consciousness at the very same time. These birds lose function, but not consciousness for a time. Their legs and wings are often fractured or broken during shackling. There are other forms of slaughter, some more humane than others, but speed and efficiency of time management and reaching of targets often sees employees at abattoirs taking short cuts, at the expense of a compassionate end. Layers are often sent to a middle man – called a cull depot, where they are sold on to informal traders. A few more days of starvation, rudimentary transport, not much access to water awaits them.

With specific regards to the free range policy document, it is difficult to comment without having seen the facilities. However, there are some policies and procedures outlined, which concern me.

7.2.3 Broilers not to be introduced to the free range system mallet than 21 days. This is half their short lives over already.
7.4.7 100 – 120 broilers or adult hens per bell type drinker. Size of bell type drinker not specified – this does not ensure adequate access to water
7.5.4 Where birds have poor feather coverage – temperature should be adequately controlled. Why poor feather coverage? Either birds are being hen pecked due to       crowded conditions, or they are losing feathers through stress.

Talks of perches – no good providing perches for broilers. They very rarely can perch due to over sized bodies.

 7.5.14  a minimum of 6 hour darkness must be provided in a 24 hour cycle. This is not adequate for chickens (or other animals, humans included) to develop adequate and healthy Circadian rhythms (A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological, or behavioral processes of living entities, including plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria. Circadian rhythmicity is present in the sleeping and feeding patterns of animals, including human beings. There are also clear patterns of core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities. In addition, photoperiodism, the physiological reaction of organisms to the length of day or night, is vital to both plants and animals, and the circadian system plays a role in the measurement and interpretation of day length). Healthy chickens need to sleep from sunset to sunrise. This is not a time period of 6 hours.

7.85 The practice of professionally performed judicious beak trimming is internationally recognized as being a humane alternative to the appalling effects of cannibalism – this is an exceptionally cruel practice of cutting off a portion of the beak in 2 day old chicks with a searing hot blade without anesthetic or pain medication. This searing hot blade is painful as it touches and cuts the roof of the mouth, sometimes the tongue, and is done hastily. Often deforming the beak of the chicken, altering the shape of the beak, and nasal passages.  Cannibalism in chickens only occurs when too many birds are crammed together with inadequate resources available.

There do not seem to be any guidelines for transportation or slaughter. Maybe there is another document for this?

So, even eating free range supports some cruel practices. Sadly, when animals are treated as products, and profit margins are slim, it becomes difficult to support that industry without supporting some cruel farming practices.

By Candy Ristic

(Founder of Chicken Rescue & Rehabilitation)