In September last year the Food Business team published a practical guide on alternative cage-free systems that deliver good standards of welfare for laying hens, highlighting the key features that should be incorporated to allow the birds to express more of their natural behaviours.
This guide is intended for companies that are looking to convert to or improve their cage-free housing and/or looking to start cage-free egg production in light of the recent cage-free movement in the US and Europe.
The main goal of the cage-free movement is to improve the lives of millions of hens with alternative housing systems. Unfortunately, there are some alternatives that do not meet that criteria, such as Combination (‘combi’) housing for laying hens.
Combination (‘combi’) or convertible housing systems feature aspects of both aviaries and conventional cages. Combi systems are multi-tiered structures that have doors, so although the birds can roam when the doors are open, the system converts to a caged system when the doors are closed. These systems are promoted as offering management and production benefits, and are marketed to maximize stocking density and have the ability to be operated in total confinement if market pressures around cage-free production change.
When assessing alternative cage-free systems, producers and corporates that have committed to cage-free production, should invest in systems that will be fit for the future, and that maximize the holistic welfare of laying hens.
Half-caged systems, combi-systems, or routinely closing aviaries will be viewed negatively. They compromise the welfare of the hens and could present reputational risk if companies invested in a system that may be outdated or even outlawed well before the end of its commercial life-span.