It was a busy day in the chicken egg industry in California when a couple of chickens escaped their pens and went for a walk.
They weren’t the only ones.
For the past two years, they’ve been eating mice.
It’s not unheard of, but it’s also rare.
The two-week quarantine period after a hen’s birth and one-year quarantine period before she’s slaughtered is a little longer than usual for egg farmers.
The mice are part of a major migration in the industry.
And it’s not just chickens.
In California, a recent study found that the industry is breeding a new breed of mouse called the “chicken eat mouse.”
That’s the third new mouse in five years.
There are four different kinds of mice for the industry: the egg-laying hens, the laying hens raised in cages, and the egg laying henees.
The eggs produced by laying hes are usually the first to be sold, but that’s not always the case.
“There are a number of eggs that come from laying hen that are not sold,” said John C. Schmitz, president of the egg industry trade group the American Egg Producers Association.
They’ve gotten more sophisticated and more resilient than they were before. “
We’ve had a good number of egg laying birds over the past few years.
They’ve gotten more sophisticated and more resilient than they were before.
But we don’t want to let the next generation of hens go through this.
They deserve a much better life.”
A chicken egg laying hen at a chicken farm in California.
| AP Photo The hens are not the only people who have been caught eating mice in California over the years.
At least two other egg farmers in the state have been busted for allegedly using rodents and other insects to feed the hens.
They’re being investigated for a possible felony.
“These animals are living on a diet of rodents and we’re not going to let them eat rodents,” said Greg Sargent, executive director of the California Egg Pro-Groups Association.
He pointed to the hems of other egg-producing industries.
“They’re being fed a diet made up mostly of other rodents,” he said.
“If they eat those, then there’s no way they’re going to get through this quarantine period and they’re not gonna be allowed back into the industry.”
In the past, the industry has blamed the rodents for the disease outbreaks.
“That’s not the case here,” said Schmitts mother, Susan Schmitzi, who owns the Schmitzes Egg Farm in the Sacramento area.
“It’s not like there’s a rat infestation.
We have an abundance of rats in our backyard.
There’s never been an infestation.”
And the rodents are not all bad.
“I’ve been feeding mice,” Schmitzy said.
It was the only way she was getting her chickens to eat mice.
And she was doing it without the help of chemicals.
“One of the things I’ve noticed with these rodents is that they are not just a nuisance, they’re an essential part of the chicken’s diet,” Schmittez said.
A flock of laying hengs in cages.
| Flickr user sarah-david-brown/Public domain The problem, though, is that chickens are being exposed to the rodents as a way of life, and in some cases, as a result of it.
“This is a problem with the industry because they’ve just started the egg supply cycle,” Schmetz said, referring to the process of breeding chickens.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve introduced the idea that it’s ok to feed rodents to these chickens, because of the benefits to their health and that’s how they’ve started to introduce the rodents to their flock.”
That is the reason Schmitzers hens were in quarantine.
But it’s unclear whether the hennes were being treated for mouse disease in the first place.
“A lot of these chickens have been fed a lot of mouse food,” Schmitez said in an interview.
“But they haven’t been tested for any of the diseases.”
And there’s still a long way to go before any of those mice are going to be released back into their hens and into the food supply.