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A Cage is a Cage, Says HFAC

by 5m Editor
11 August 2011, at 8:45am

US - Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) explains why it opposes enriched cages for laying hens and does not allow this system in its programme.

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, according to HFAC.

HFAC standards do not allow conventional battery cages and do not and will not allow the 'enriched' cage on its programme for the following reasons:

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 and 252 square inches to turn around and between 168 to 404 square inches to flap their wings. Dr Marian Dawkins's research showed that laying hens shunned cages with ceiling heights of less than 18 inches in height.

  • Conventional cages: Those that meet the United Egg Producers (UEP) standards have between 67 and 76 square inches (depending on the size of the birds). There are unfortunately some producers that do not meet the UEP standards and have cage sizes as small as 48 square inches per bird. The height of the cage is generally 14.9 inches.
  • Enriched cages: There are different configurations of enriched cages. Small cages that hold 10 to 12 birds, medium cages that hold 15 to 30 birds and larger cages that hold 60 birds. The usable space per bird is 93 square inches per bird. The height of the cage is 17.7 inches.

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 behaviours 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 behaviour, 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 inches). The perch that is in the enriched cage is two to three inches 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 the cage.

Dustbathing: inadequate litter and area to dustbathe

Dustbathing is an important requirement for laying hens because it contributes to both the physical and behavioural 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 HumaneĀ®

Barn-raised, aviaries, free range and pasture-raised housing systems are allowed in the Certified Humane programme. 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 inches 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.