A Cage is a Cage

There has been a lot of discussion in the news lately about the “enriched” cages (also  known as “colony,” “furnished” or “modified” cages) as being a good alternative housing system for laying hens.

The Humane Farm Animal Care® (HFAC) standards do not allow conventional battery cages and do not and will not allow the “enriched” cage on our program.  Here are the reasons why:

Space:  There is not enough space for laying hens to move around, or flap their wings.
Laying hens need space to move around; they need between 151 – 252 sq. inches to turn around and between 168 – 404 sq. inches to flap their wings.  Dr. Marian Dawkins’ research showed that laying hens shunned cages with ceiling heights of less than 18” in height.

  • Conventional Cages:  Those that meet the United Egg Producers (UEP) standards have between 67- 76 sq. inches (depending on the size of the birds).  There are unfortunately some producers that don’t meet the UEP standards and have cage sizes as small as 48 sq. inches per bird.  The height of the cage is generally 14.9”
  •  “Enriched” Cages: There are different configurations of “enriched” cages.  Small cages that hold 10 – 12 birds, medium cages that hold 15 – 30 birds” and larger cages that hold 60 birds.  The usable space per bird is 93 sq. inches/bird. The height of the cage is 17.7 inches
"Enriched" Cage
"Enriched" Cage

Nest Boxes:  Lack of nesting/nest box space
Laying hens are very motivated to find a suitable nest site to lay their eggs.  This is an important welfare need to prevent frustration.  When there is no nest box/nesting area, laying hens can exhibit stereotypical behaviors that indicate frustration.

  • Conventional Cages:  No nest boxes
  • “Enriched” Cages:  There is usually one small nest box for each cage. Birds are forced to compete for the site each day.  Some hens may choose to remain in the nest box even when not laying eggs in an attempt to remove herself from the other hens in the confined space of the cage, thus preventing other hens from using the nest.

Perching/ Roosting: No elevated perches
Modern hens in production have retained the strong instinct to perch. Perching on elevated perches with their flockmates is a natural behavior which helps to conserve body heat.  When hens are prevented from gaining access to an elevated perch at night they may show signs of unrest.

  • Conventional Cages:  No elevated perches
  • “Enriched” Cages:  There are no real “elevated perches” (above 16”).  The perch that is in the “enriched” cage is 2 – 3” off the cage floor which does not address the need of the birds for elevated perches.  It also may be difficult for the birds to move around the cage and may not be easily accessible for many of the birds in cage.
Bird on Perch in "Enriched" Cage
Bird on Perch in "Enriched" Cage

Dustbathing:  Not adequate litter and area to dustbathe.
Dustbathing is an important requirement for laying hens because it contributes to both the physical and behavioral needs of the birds.  Dustbathing enables the hens to recondition their feathers, remove the build-up of stale oils produced by their bodies and parasites.  Dustbathing helps laying hens maintain a comfortable body temperature.

  • Conventional Cages:  No dustbathing
  • “Enriched” Cages:  There is not sufficient depth or size area for the hens to actually toss, rub and shake the litter through her feathers (in other words, dustbathe).

Laying Hens that are Certified Humane®:  Barn raised, aviaries, free range and pasture raised housing systems are allowed in the Certified Humane® program. (click here for more information and photos of laying hen housing and free range requirements)

All of these systems require that:

  • All hens have freedom of movement so they can space themselves in such away to allow individual hens to move from others;
  • All hens have sufficient room to exercise, stretch and flap their wings;
  • All hens can gain access to all the different facilities without difficulty;
  • Considerably more nest boxes are available to hens allowing the hens to gain access to the nest box of their choice.
  • Hens have perches are available to the hens that are high (elevated at least 16” off the ground) and low that do not detract from the overall floor area.
  • Hens are provided with enough space and access to litter to be able to dustbathe where and when they choose.