I really enjoy talking to new adopters and love the enthusiasm and passion that comes across when we are discussing the arrival of the lucky hens they are due to adopt. We speak to all our adopters to ensure that every hen has a suitable coop, secure fox proof run and well-informed home to go to. During my conversations with supporters, one comment that I hear on a regular basis is “I thought battery cages had gone?” or “aren’t cages illegal now?”
The simple answer is no. In the UK commercial hens are farmed under three different systems:
- Colony or enriched cages replaced the old barren battery cage system in 2012. On average a ‘colony’ cage holds 80 hens and has a screened off area for laying, a scratch mat and low perches. Hens don’t leave the cage until they go to slaughter.
- Barn hens live in large flocks within a barn environment, there is no access outside. The hens have a solid (usually earth) floor and access to nest boxes.
- Free-range hens have access to the outside world, the chance to scratch for bugs, feel the sun or rain on their backs and to exercise freely. Well managed free range, organic free-range and multi-tier free-range systems allow hens to exhibit more natural behaviour.
The term ‘Ex-commercial hen’ is a generic term used to describe hens from a commercial unit; it does not give any information regarding the system in which the bird was kept however and this should be clarified on adoption.
When the BHWT started the aim was to encourage growth in the demand for free-range eggs (and therefore increase the number of free-range hens). Specifically, we want to see an increase in small flocks of free-range hens as these usually offer the highest welfare.
Every time we take birds from a caged unit, we know we often leave behind thousands that will never enjoy the lifestyle of a free-range hen. That is why the charity is focussed on the hens we leave behind as well as those lucky enough to be saved from slaughter; we want every hen to enjoy the chance to live a high quality free-range life.
Until we reach our goal we will continue to focus our main efforts on taking hens out of cages in order to give the less ‘privileged’ birds a chance to experience a free-range retirement. We will still continue to help barn and free-range hens where we can, and will always ensure our adopters know which system the hens have come from.