No Caged Housing System for Chickens is Acceptable
“Enriched” cages are being promoted (and in some places are already being used) by egg producers as a “humane” alternative to conventional, barren wire cages for egg-laying hens in North America and Europe. An “enriched” cage has a tiny perch and nest box, and maybe a little box of sand or wood shavings for the hens to scratch and dust bathe in, within the confines of their cage. The hens have “extra” space, about the size of a postcard, in a metal-plastic environment containing a clutter of tiny dollhouse items. The “enriched” cages are stacked 6 to 12 tiers high in industrial egg-production operations. Depending on size and design, each cage holds from 10 to 60 hens, and photos of some cage models show an increased use of siding enclosing the hens with their “furniture.”
Photo from United Poultry Concerns
As directors of animal sanctuaries that rehabilitate and work directly with chickens, including brown and white egg-laying hens, we oppose “enriched” cages and dispute industry claims that these cluttered little prisons meet their needs. Chickens, including egg-laying hens, are semi-migratory birds with innate needs and interests. They have beaks and claws for foraging, legs and wings for walking, running, and perching, and studies show (and we know) that chickens are disinclined to perch on a little stick two to three inches from the ground or floor as in these “enriched” cages.
Chickens maintain hygiene by dustbathing and preening. Industrial chicken houses are densely polluted with toxic gases and airborne debris – floating feathers, dander, and pathogens. Thousands of little “sandboxes” will increase the airborne debris in the caged environment. An increase in airborne dust and dirt, as when a hen is flinging sand with her beak and claws during her dustbath, then vigorously shaking out the particles from her feathers and skin following the bath, will increase respiratory and eye irritation.
And while laying hens need nest boxes, “enriched” cages will make meaningful inspections of the hens – already next to impossible – even harder. As one animal welfare director asks: “Will the nesting box be carefully inspected, daily? Will checks be made to see if a hen in there is in fact laying an egg, resting, escaping, or merely dying from cage layer fatigue? (Clare Druce, Farm Animal Voice Summer No. 162, Compassion in World Farming, 2006). Based on investigations and other documentation of what actually goes on in caged-hen operations, the answer is No.
The groups represented in this document have joined the animal protection community in the United States and Europe to oppose “enriched” cages for egg-laying hens. (The group known as “American Humane,” which supports “enriched” cages, is a bogus animal welfare group that fronts for agribusiness.) Realizing that no commercial confinement system can ever meet the complex behavioral and cognitive needs and interests of chickens, and even assuming that “enriched” cages inflict less total misery on hens than barren cages do, we condemn the “enriched” cage as a particularly cruel and egregiously inhumane and falsely represented housing system for laying hens. Nobody who knows chickens and cares about them can support their being confined in a cage in a building filled with cages. The cage system for egg-laying hens is inherently cruel and inhumane and needs to be eliminated completely.
For more information, including a photo of a typical “enriched” metal cage, see the HSUS Report: Welfare Issues with Furnished Cages for Egg-Laying Hens.
Organizations Endorsing This Position Statement: