Commercially sold eggs are laid by chickens during their ovulation cycle, and so have not been fertilised. Eggs are a popular source of protein all over the world, in the US alone, around 276 eggs are consumed per person, per year.
The life of an egg-laying chicken normally lasts 12 to 18 months. During this time, in most commercial egg operations they will be kept in constant bright light to manipulate their natural cycles and keep them laying all year round. These facilities are often extremely cramped, so it is standard industry practice to sear or cut off portions of the beaks of laying hens to prevent them pecking or cannibalising each other due to stress and boredom. This prevents chickens from engaging in most of their natural behaviours, including foraging and grooming. In order to maximise profitability, most hens are raised with the minimum required space of 600cm squared useable space per bird, which is less than the size of an A4 piece of paper. These laying hens are sourced from vast hatcheries, where male chicks are commonly ground up alive as they do not lay eggs and are not considered profitable for meat production.
Due to welfare concerns like these, many people choose to purchase free range or cage free eggs. Unfortunately, these terms legally mean very little. Cage free just means that cages are not used, but this most often this mean that chickens are instead kept in large warehouses (pictured above), where mortality rates are actually even higher. When people think about free range, many assume chickens are roaming on pasture. While in a few cases this is true, legally, free range only requires that birds have access to outdoors; it does not need to be constant access and there is no requirement set for number of birds, space per bird, or the way in which they are slaughtered. This means that a laying hen can spend most of her life in a warehouse and still be labelled free range. Once a hen’s egg production begins to slow, they are almost always sent to slaughter, usually in the exact same slaughterhouses as their factory farmed counterparts.
Some people choose to avoid commercial eggs entirely, and only use eggs from backyard hens. This much kinder, however, it is not without problems. Producing eggs is extremely calorie intensive for chickens; it requires a lot of energy and protein. Taking the result of that labour for ourselves is exploitative; these eggs do not belong to us and are simply not ours to take. If you want to rescue chickens this is a wonderful thing to do, but it is far kinder to allow chickens to consume their own eggs, mashed, scrambled or whole and cracked. That way, chickens benefit from what they product rather than you. Chickens are intelligent, sentient beings, with complex emotions, social lives and their own needs and preferences. Treating them as means of production rather than as individuals is unethical, and considering the abundance of plant based protein sources, it is also entirely unnecessary.