Laying hen housing systems: What the future holds

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Today, in 2018, an estimated 90% of Canada's laying hens are confined to small, barren wire "battery" cages without perches, nests, opportunity to dust bathe or move away from one another. Battery cages are so small a hen cannot walk, spread her wings or fulfill natural behaviors.

After a year in a battery cage, a hen is considered “spent,” with poor body condition and, often, osteoporosis from shell production and lack of exercise. She will then be shipped to slaughter or killed on the farm.

Future plans for changes to hen housing in Canada

There are timelines in place to improve housing systems for Canada's stressed and deprived laying hens — albeit years from now.

Canada's major grocers — Loblaw, Longo Brothers, Metro, Overwaitea, Save-on-Foods, Sobeys and Wal-mart Canada, through the Retail Council of Canada — have “voluntarily committed to the objective of purchasing cage-free eggs by the end of 2025.” Other Canadian food service companies have also committed to purchase eggs only from cage-free hens.

Perhaps in response to the retailers’ commitments, Egg Farmers of Canada, in their 2017-revised Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets and Laying Hens agreed to future housing changes for hens:

All hens are to be housed in loose housing systems or "enriched" cages by July 1, 2036: 18 years in future.

Hens kept in "enriched" cages are not cage-free, though they have more space and amenities than today’s cramped battery cages. “Enriched” cages restrict behaviours such as running, full wing flapping and flying and do not permit unrestrained perching and dust bathing. Other welfare problems with “enriched” cages include hens’ having their beaks laser-trimmed, feather pecking, perches that are too low, too many hens on wire floors and inadequate nesting and foraging opportunities.

However, there is a significant discrepancy between food retailers’ commitments to purchase cage-free eggs by the end of 2025, and egg farmers’ plans to have all laying hens in “enriched” cages or loose housing by 2036. Will egg producers meet food retailers’ commitments for cage-free eggs by the end of 2025? It is unclear what the ratio between loose-housing for hens and “enriched” cages will be in 2026.

Further, there is no system with the codes to adequately enforce requirements and recommended practices in the code, and assurance that farmers comply with code standards.

The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) supports cage-free housing over “enriched” housing, because a cage is still a cage. CCFA is concerned about the future availability of cage-free eggs and the egg industry’s apparent preference for “enriched” cages over loose housing for hens.

Consumers who eat eggs should support hen welfare by purchasing only certified organic (which has higher welfare standards) or cage-free eggs.

Visit CCFA's chicken website

More information about battery cages

Click here to read what experts have to say about the cruelty of battery cages.

To read about Controlled Atmosphere Killing, click here for PETA’s report.

Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals

Broken Wings

Inside Clark Egg Farms Ltd.
Covert video footage taken inside a battery cage operation.

The Truth About Canada's Egg Industry
Shocking video footage of the inside of a standard battery cage operation (summer 2005).


Alternatives to battery cages

There are viable alternatives to battery cages, where free run hens are kept in open barns and can move around and lay their eggs in nest boxes. Certified organic eggs come from hens with access to the outdoors at least part of the time.

Click here to download our information about labelling and alternative egg production systems.