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Does 'cage-free' mean a better life for chickens?

Does 'cage-free' mean a better life for chickens?



It's not a clear choice which of the possible living conditions for egg-laying hens -- enriched cages, 

cage-free systems, free-range setups -- serve them the best. Well, some Extrimists are ready to ban

the battery cage in US and Europe. 


Judging from Economy, egg producers will not bear the expense of continuing to feed hens after 

they have gotten too old to lay eggs. When the rate of lay declines, it is quite normal that chicken

houses are "depopulated," meaning birds are sold, removed, or killed,


What's best for the hens? 

Egg production has been a key target of animal welfare initiatives because at one time layers were so

crowded that they literally had to stand on top of one another in the wire cages used by the modern 

egg industry. We can't be sure these stocking densities have been entirely eliminated, but the vast 

majority of table eggs today come from chickens that have at least enough space to stand on the floor 

of their cage.


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By 2010, a consensus emerged among producers and some activists for moving to much larger cages

that provided opportunities for most of chickens' natural behaviors -- the so-called enriched or colony

cage. From the producer perspective, enriched cages represented the best compromise between slightly 

higher costs and improved welfare for hens.


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Out of the cage, into the fire

Cage-free and free-range systems clearly do a better job of allowing hens to express behaviors that are 

similar to wild jungle fowl. They can move around, and they have better opportunities for scratching, 

dust bathing and foraging. However, in comparison to enriched cages, hens in cage-free and free-range 

facilities suffer injuries simply because they move around more. Access to the outdoors often means that 

predators also have access to hens, and some are inevitably taken by hawks, foxes or the like.


Further complicating the "freedom" of cage-free and free-range enclosures, hens will peck one another

in an effort to establish a dominance order. In small groups, this behavior generally recedes. But in flocks

of 10,000-100,000 or more chickens, the least dominant birds can be subjected to so much pecking from 

other hens that their welfare is clearly worse than it would be in an enriched cage.


chicken cage (184).jpg

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How to satisfy our appetite for meat without ruining the planet

Egg producers limit the damage that birds can do to each other by trimming off the sharp tip of their beak . 

Even still, higher mortality from pecking gets treated as a cost of business in cage-free production facilities.


So do chickens benefit from more space, and should we turn them out of their cages? If we are trying to 

help them live a more natural kind of existence, then maybe we should. If we are interested in limiting the 

injuries they suffer from being pecked by other birds, as well as from getting hunted and killed by hawks, 

dogs and other predators, maybe not. 

But please think about the good ventilation, and suitable temperature, also sufficient chicken food, egg 

producers offered to chickens in the chicken house.

Read Original Passage: Does 'cage-free' mean a better life for chickens?