Laying hens - key welfare issues
We’re concerned about the welfare of laying hens in all farming systems.
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 systems, with perches, nest boxes and floor litter, 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.
Feather pecking is believed to be a redirected foraging behaviour. The reasons for it occurring can vary widely, but include:
- the way hens were reared as pullets (before hens start laying eggs, when they are typically housed on a different farm)
- sudden changes in things such as their feed or environment.
Beak trimming, or ‘tipping’, is often carried out when hens are chicks to reduce the risk of feather pecking injuries in later life.
A ban on routine beak trimming of laying hens, was due to start in January 2011, but was delayed by the government who are now aiming for a ban by 2016. We’re disappointed that the serious 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 by 2016.