What do hens need to be happy?
They are intelligent, quirky, and social creatures. They are descended from jungle fowl and still have instincts that align with their desire to seek shelter in the vegetation at night, away from predators.
As with other mammals and birds, hens can experience positive and negative emotions such as fear, distress, and pleasure. Science is clear on what hens require to live a healthy life. If we can all understand what they need, we will be able to make better decisions at the supermarket and improve the egg farming industry in Australia.
Freedom of expression natural behaviors
It is important that farm animals can exhibit positive, natural behaviors. It will look different for each species. For layer hens, it includes nesting, foraging, and stretching. Birds and animals can experience chronic stress and frustration when these instincts are not met.
Nesting (laying the eggs in a quiet, secluded area, which we call a “nest”), perching (sitting on a perch or resting there), and foraging, including scratching and pecking, are all important behaviors for hens. Therefore, any farming system should allow them to display these behaviors.
Not fulfilling these instincts can cause frustration, distress, and other problems with physical welfare. Hens in farm systems must have enough space and time to express these behaviors.
It’s time to wave goodbye to the battery cage.
While science and the community’s expectations are clear on what hens require to be happy, around half of layer hens are not receiving these requirements.
These hens, over 10,000,000 in total, are still kept in small, barren battery cages. The birds are confined to a wire floor, where they stand all day and night. Each hen has less space than an A4 piece of paper. These cages are stacked in sheds, which can contain as many as 100,000 birds.
The majority of OECD nations have taken steps to phase out barren battery cages.
Many alternatives to battery cages are more humane, such as cage-free systems or barn-laid ones, which allow birds to move and nest in their own nest freely.
How can I make hens’ lives better?
There are many things that individuals can do to improve the lives of Australian layer hens.
RSPCA encourages all consumers to purchase cage-free eggs in the supermarket. By doing so, you can be sure that your eggs are from hens, not confined to barren battery cages. Our Cage Free & Proud database includes a list of companies that use cage-free eggs in Australia. You can also find restaurants and cafes near you that serve higher-welfare food by using our Select Wisely directory.
This year, you can help more hens live a happier life in Australia. That’s because nationally consistent standards and guidelines for poultry are currently under review, and we have the chance to phase out barren battery cages for good.
It is important to note that even though many Australians choose cage-free eggs in supermarkets and cafes, cage eggs still make up a large part of food production.
The only way to guarantee that no hens in Australia will have to live in barren battery cages is for the state and territory governments of Australia to agree on a phase-out legislation.
We have the opportunity to phase out battery cages this year. But everyone can help by sending a message to governments in each state and territory. Visit byebyebatterycages.org.au to find out how you can help.