Higher Welfare Alternatives
Barns and aviaries
In these systems, hens are kept in sheds which may be single tier (using the floor space only) or multiple tier (with access to a series of platforms at differing heights). Stocking density is limited in the EU to 9 hens/m2 of usable space. Hens have lots of ‘shared space’ throughout the shed and are able to move around freely. They are also provided with nest boxes (with a scratchable floor surface), perches and litter on the floor.
Compared to cages, these systems allow the hens much greater freedom of movement for exercise, wing-stretching, flapping and flying. They also provide opportunities for more natural behaviours such as pecking, scratching and laying their eggs in an enclosed nest site.
Free-range and organic systems
In free-range systems, the housing is often similar to that used in barn systems but the hens also have outdoor access at a minimum level of 4m2/hen, at least in daylight hours.
In organic systems, stocking rate is limited to 6 hens/m2 inside the shed and flock size is limited to 3,000 hens. The hens are usually not beak trimmed and more space is usually given outdoors (10m2/hen) to comply with nitrogen input limits on the land.
Both systems provide hens with greater opportunity to perch, dustbathe, exercise and investigate their surroundings through pecking, scratching and foraging. Hens are able to range outdoors, often grazing on the grass and eating insects and worms, whilst experiencing fresh air and natural light. Hedges and trees are often provided and form natural areas of shade and shelter (from wind, rain, and sun) and protection from predators. Worms, insects, and grass give variety to the diet and can help to improve the nutritional quality of the eggs the hens lay.