Should Cages for Laying Hens be Banned or Modified?
Abstract:Conventional cages for laying hens have many disadvantages for welfare and there have been widespread calls for them to be banned. However, they also have advantages: in particular, they house the birds in small groups. Modified designs intended to reduce the disadvantages while retaining the advantages have included the get-away cage (providing perches and other facilities for up to 60 birds), but these designs have not yet had much success. The Edinburgh project on modified cages has adopted a stage-by-stage, systematic approach to cage design. Recommendations include increased area and height compared to conventional cages, and inclusion of a perch, a nest box and a dust bath. Current trials combine all these features in designs with commercial potential. One remaining welfare problem is restriction of locomotion, with associated effects on bone strength. However, alternative, non-cage husbandry systems for laying hens also have welfare problems, including those associated with large group sizes, and these problems may be worse than those in modified cages. Probably most important is the risk of cannibalism - or the practice of beak trimming to prevent it. Rather than banning cages, it might be more appropriate for legislation to specify the facilities which should be provided for laying hens.
In the current state of development of alternative systems, modifying cages for laying hens could on balance be more beneficial to welfare than banning them.