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Cage-Free Hens/Eggs

Organic Eggs

Animal Welfare

 

CAGED HENS/EGGS

 

The caged layer production method consists of placing the hens in wire cages with feed and water being provided to each cage. The birds are housed with several hens in each cage, with plenty of space for comfortable movement and easy access to food and water. The cages are arranged in rows which are placed on leg supports or suspended from the ceiling. Water is supplied by individual cup waterers or a long trough outside the cages that extends the length of the row of cages. The feed trough is also located outside the cages and runs parallel to the water trough on the opposite side of each cage and the hens are fed a balanced diet with just the right combination of nutrients to keep them healthy and productive. Housed in cages, birds seldom require medicine and are never fed hormones or steroids. The cages are designed so the eggs will roll out of the cage to a holding area by means of a slanted wire floor. Special tunnel ventilation produces a steady 10mph breeze for lots of fresh air, which fluffs the feathers and carries away body heat as well as manure smells. This method of housing is used primarily with egg-type layers kept for infertile egg production.

                            

Regardless of the caged or cage-free production method used, the 22-week old pullets are given an increasing daily light schedule after being placed in the laying house. The length of daily light is increased 15 minutes each week after the birds enter the laying house. The increased light stimulates egg production and helps to maintain production throughout the year. The day length increases until the birds are receiving 16-18 hours of light each day. The day length then remains the same for the rest of the laying period. After the birds begin to produce eggs, the total duration of light, including both natural and artificial, is not reduced.

                            

           

As farms have grown, animal activists have complained that animal welfare is being sacrificed when caged production is used. However, guidelines, established by the scientific community, along with the United Egg Producers (UEP), place top priority on the comfort, health, and safety of the chickens. Standards are in place which monitor ammonia levels; beak trimming, when necessary, to prevent pecking and cannibalism ; daily inspection of each bird; handling and transportation of the birds; training of new production staff on proper handling of chickens to avoid injury to animals; molting procedures based on the most current, verified scientific studies; and maintaining constant supply of fresh feed, water, and air ventilation throughout the chicken house. To provide for the birds during any power failure, the housing must include alarms and stand-by generators to supply emergency power for lighting, watering, ventilation, feeding, and egg collection. Producers also undergo annual inspections by independent auditors to ensure these guidelines are consistently being met. Cage systems provide cleaner eggs and also keep the eggs safe from bacteria that might be present in the manure.

Even though the caged housing method may seem to some to limit a hen's freedom, this system is actually designed for the welfare of the birds as well as for production efficiency.  In the hen house, the birds are more readily protected from the elements, from disease, and from both natural and unnatural predators.  Housing hens also makes it possible to control their diet which results in better-fed hens and production of more uniform quality eggs. 

If you are interested in reading more about the advantages of caged versus cage-free production, check out the following websites:


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