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Welfare issues of laying hens

We're concerned about the welfare of laying hens in all farming systems. Here's more on why.

Battery hens in an indoor cage unit © RSPCA

Battery cages

Battery cages consist mostly of wire mesh. They provide limited facilities for hens to perch, nest and scratch. We're particularly worried about the fact that cages:

  • Don't allow birds to move around freely and exercise
  • Don't allow birds to rest undisturbed
  • Don't allow birds to move away from each other properly
  • Don't allow for full dustbathing and foraging behaviours.

Not providing for the full behavioural and physical needs of hens can cause frustration and suffering.

Non-cage systems (barn and free-range) provide higher standards of welfare compared with cages. Well-designed, well-managed systems - with perches, nest boxes, floor litter and enrichment objects - allow hens to perform their natural behaviours.

Injurious feather pecking

Feather pecking is where hens peck and pull at the feathers of other hens, sometimes leading to serious injuries and even cannibalism. It can affect hens in any system and outbreaks can happen suddenly.

Injurious pecking is believed to be a redirected foraging behaviour. The reasons behind it can vary, but include:

  • Environment
  • Breed
  • Nutrition
  • Poor health and diseases
  • The way hens were reared before they began laying eggs
  • Sudden changes in things such as their feed or environment

Beak trimming

Beak trimming, sometimes called 'beak tipping', is often carried out when hens are chicks to reduce the risk of feather pecking injuries in later life.

It's disappointing that the serious welfare problems caused by injurious pecking and cannibalism can't yet be fully and confidently avoided without beak trimming. We continue to work with all sectors of the industry, including rearing, breeding and research scientists, to help achieve a ban on routine beak trimming of laying hens at the earliest possible opportunity.

If you're concerned about laying hen welfare, you may like to know how you can help and learn more about our work to improve the lives of laying hens. You can also read more about UK caged egg production and the case against chicken cages.

Find out more