Laying hens

Egg laying hens are one of the few types of farm animal in the UK that, on some farms, are still kept in close-confinement cage systems for all of their productive lives. We are very concerned that hens can’t carry out all of their important natural behaviours properly in such an environment.


We want to see all laying hens kept in well-managed free-range or barn systems instead and are working very hard to try to improve the conditions in which all laying hens are reared, transported and slaughtered/killed, and to get better laws to protect them. 

Free range hen standing in field © RSPCA Photolibrary

The behaviour of laying hens:

Hens are naturally inquisitive animals with a strong desire to carry out their natural behaviours which include: 

  • Dustbathing 
    This helps to remove parasites, keep skin and feathers in good condition, and helps to keep their body temperature comfortable. Birds can spend a lot of their time dustbathing each day and it is important for their physical and mental wellbeing.
     
  • Perching 
    Hens like to roost on perches at night with their flockmates. In the wild this behaviour protects them from predators and also helps to conserve body heat.
     
  • Investigation 
    Hens like to explore their environment, for example by pecking at objects and scratching at the ground to unearth things in the soil.
     
  • Nesting 
    Hens will first examine different places to find a suitable, enclosed nesting site, before carrying out laying behaviours and finally laying an egg.
     
  • Comfort and grooming behaviours 
    These include feather ruffling, head scratching, body shaking, wing stretching and flapping.
     
  • Vocalisation
    When hens are not provided with access to something they need, such as a nest site or appropriate dustbathing material, they often vocalise more out of frustration, sometimes producing a specific vocalisation known as a ‘gakel-call’. Hens also vocalise to communicate with their flock mates, for socialising and warning.
     

Further information:

As well as the information on these pages, we've also produced The welfare of laying hens information sheet February 2013 (PDF: 1,265 KB).


Find out how you can help improve the lives of laying hens.