More than 90 per cent of Canada’s 26 million egg-laying hens are confined to small, cramped “battery” cages with anywhere from four to ten other hens where they are unable to perform any of their natural behaviours such as stretching their wings, moving around, nesting, perching or dust bathing. Each bird has less space than a sheet of notebook paper.
Hens are forced to stand on sloping wire floors which causes them to suffer foot injuries and deformities. They suffer feather loss and skin damage due to constant rubbing against the cage and stress-driven feather pecking from other hens confined in the same cage. They suffer tremendous stress from the inability to move, to spread their wings, the constant vocal expressions from other stressed hens, painful feather pecking and lack of social interaction.
Hens endure the painful procedure of having their beaks partially sliced off without pain medication when they are a few days old. Hens suffer from painful keel bone fractures that occur when ever-larger eggs are laid by normal-sized hens and by the immense number of eggs each hen lays in one year. The hens are condemned to a life of pain from these fractures.
A battery hen can lay up to 320 eggs in the first year after she begins to lay, but her productivity begins to drop after that. “Spent” hens are then slaughtered usually after 12 months for chicken by-products or compost. Hens in Canada lay 9 billion eggs each year.
In Canada, the slow phasing in of a ban on battery cages has prolonged the suffering of laying hens. The voluntary guidelines call for a 50 percent ban on conventional cages by 2025 and a 100 percent ban only by 2036 but allow hens to be moved to “enriched cages” as an alternative. “Enriched cages”, which are not a humane option, allow many more hens to be crowded together, providing each of them a bare minimum increase in space. Few large companies are close to meeting the 50 per cent goal. The Canadian retail Council reneged on a previous commitment to the 100 per cent ban on battery cages by 2025.
Thinking outside the cage: Achieving Higher Welfare for Egg-Laying Hens in Canada
Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets and Laying Hens