“Eyeglasses” for chickens were once sold in the thousands — and they weren’t decorative. Rather, they were the only way to stop chickens from murdering each other. Learn why these lenses stopped chickens from killing, and see old film footage of hen specs.
In The Egg And I, a funny if dated memoir, Betty MacDonald chronicled her husband’s attempt to become an egg farmer, and her consequent hatred for chickens. One of the things that causes her to hate them so vehemently was their hatred for each other. MacDonald and her husband carefully created perfect “nurseries,” meant to secure the health of baby chicks, only to stand by and watch as the chicks killed each other. First one would peck out the eyes of another, and then the whole flock would turn on the wounded.
This behavior isn’t restricted to juvenile chickens, or to the MacDonalds’ farm. Egg-laying chickens are well-known for turning on each other. They will go for each other’s eyes, pull each other’s feathers, or simply peck at each other incessantly. Once a chicken is wounded, it is unlikely to reverse its fortune. The sight of blood encourages the entire flock to peck.
The problem persists today. Farms combat it using different strategies, some more human than others. Some separate the chickens in individual cages. Some give them more space. Some engage in a horrific process called “de-beaking.”
And some use a very old solution, one that first gained popularity in the early 1900s. Chicken spectacles were manufactured by the tens of thousands at the beginning of the last century. The glasses were actually more like blinders. Chickens usually attack only the chicken that’s directly in front of their faces. The spectacles were clipped, or sometimes pinned, to the beak. They hindered the chicken’s view of objects directly in front of it, so it didn’t feel secure enough to attack.
To the left we see the most basic design. It prevented chickens from looking ahead. There were also rose-tinted lenses. These colored the world slightly red, but also disguised the sight of blood, which prevented the chickens from mobbing an already-wounded comrade.
The most complicated lenses were attached to the top of the eyeglass frame on little hinges, like pet doors. When the chicken was upright, the lenses swung into place. When the chicken turned its head down, looking for food, the lenses swung out, giving the chicken a normal-colored view of its food and water.