One hundred miles west of Boston in the town of Wendell everybody knows Diemand Farm.  Locals stop by for fresh meat and eggs.   A couple of pet donkeys share a field with goats named Prince and Chompy. 


Diemand Farm is part of the community, but it’s not a community farm.   It supplies food to wholesalers and it’s the only farm in the state that would be impacted by a proposed ballot question banning the production  - and sale – of eggs from animals kept in small cages.


The production animals as they’re called – chickens, turkeys and egg-laying hens – are housed in long, low, windowless buildings.    Walk into the building that houses the chicken and the sound of the animals is striking.   Three thousand birds, each in its own wire and metal cage, coo and cluck in unison.


“If the chickens were under stressed conditions, you would not hear that sound,” says Peter Diemand, the farm’s second-generation owner.  “There would probably just be silence.”


64-year-old Diemand has lived his life on this farm, producing eggs the same way his father once did.  He figures he knows more about animals than the people who criticize his cages. 


“You can tell that’s a healthy looking bird,” says Diemand, as he admires a hen he pulled from its cage.


The hen flaps its wings, something it does not have enough room to do in its 12 by 18-inch cage.    The proposed ballot initiative would not ban cages altogether, but require them to be big enough so that animals can stand up, turn around and flap their wings.


“It’s a very modest proposal,” says Carter Luke, president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  “We think it’s basic humaneness to at least allow the animal to turn around or reach around and scratch its leg.  It’s really basic, basic care.”


Peter Diemand does have some cage-free chickens.  They’re raised for meat.  Diemand says labor and the cost of wood shavings that cover the barn floor make that method more expensive.


In a large-scale operation, he likes cages for other reasons.  The chickens - and their eggs – are off the ground, away from droppings.  The cages also keep the animals apart.


“It may be different (for) someone raising 30, 40, 50 chickens.  My experience growing up with birds in the thousands is that sometimes - if there’s a stress on the bird – they start pecking each other,” says Diemand.   “And once they draw blood of a particular chicken, they all gang up and they actually pick that bird to death. I’ve seen it happen.”


By Massachusetts’ standards Diemand Farm – with its 3,000 chickens – is big.  In the big picture, however, this is a small farm.  Massachusetts consumes 150,000 eggs a day and 99 percent of them come from out of state.   The ballot question – which bans both the production – and sale – of eggs from caged hens would impact not Peter Diemand, but egg producers nationwide.