Who is the laying hen?
Laying hens are gregarious birds with elaborate social behaviours, living together as a flock with a distinct hierarchy or “pecking order.” Naturally they spend their day foraging for food, scratching the ground looking for insects and seeds, maintaining their plumage condition via dustbathing and preening, and perching in trees at night to avoid predators.
They also exhibit a thorough nest building repertoire from careful nest selection and inspection, to settling and laying their eggs followed by cackling and re-joining the flock. They tend to range widely, using the cover of trees and vegetation for safety from predators.
Hens have an average lifespan of seven to eight years, whereas in commercial egg production they are slaughtered at around one and a half years of age, after their egg production starts to drop.
Typically, laying hens are kept in caged systems which include barren battery cages or “enriched” cage systems. Commonly, these systems house many tens of thousands of hens in closed sheds, with the cages stacked in many rows and tiers.
Barren battery cages usually hold 4 or 5 hens with low space allowance - less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper per bird - and the height is just enough to allow the hen to stand. There is no nest where they can lay their eggs and no opportunity for them to express natural behaviours such as spreading their wings, walking, scratching or perching.
Enriched cages - introduced when barren battery cages were banned in the EU in 2012 - provide the hens with slightly more space, a small perch, litter and a nest area so they have the opportunity to perform some of their natural behaviours, but to a very limited extent.
Caged systems fail to properly meet the hens’ physical and behavioural needs; seriously restricting their ability to move around and exercise, let alone perch, scratch and dustbathe. They deprive animals of their most basic behaviours and are unacceptable in the eyes of the consumer.
Read below to discover more about what laying hens want and how to provide them with a better quality of life.