Laying hens - key welfare issues

We're concerned about the welfare of laying hens in all farming systems.

Battery cages

Battery cages consist mostly of wire mesh. They provide limited facilities for hens to perch, nest and scratch. Of particular concern in cages is that:

  • they don't allow birds to move around freely and exercise
  • birds can't rest undisturbed
  • birds can't move away from each other properly
  • they 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

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

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

  • environment
  • breed
  • nutrition
  • poor health and diseases
  • the way hens were reared as pullets (before hens start laying eggs they are known as pullets and they are typically housed on a different farm)
  • 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 is disappointing that the serious welfare problems that can occur from injurious pecking and cannibalism cannot 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 about our work to improve the lives of laying hens.

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