Breaking free of myths about battery cages

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 17 March 2014

Any job ad seeking a public relations specialist for the egg industry would state as a prerequisite: ‘You need to be creative.’

Let’s face it: trying to positively spin that the battery cage has benefits — when a five year old can see that it is cruel to keep birds this way — is perhaps the ultimate PR challenge. So let’s see what they have come up with!

“Free range hens are no happier! Cages are safer!"

We’re not kidding: the cage egg industry has tried to sell these lines. They trotted out some research apparently showing no difference in hens’ welfare in free range as opposed to cage facilities. And shared some convenient observations that the level of a particular hormone associated with stress seems to rise in hens living under free range conditions. According to cage egg proponents, this means that battery cages are just dandy.

If you find these claims about cages to be ridiculous, you aren’t alone.

Not only does plain common sense refute the assertion that confinement of a living, feeling animal to a tiny wire cage is beneficial, but a UK expert in animal welfare has thoroughly debunked these myths:

“The assumption that hens like living in battery cages is based on a finding that battery chickens have lower corticosterone levels than free-range birds. But corticosterone is a poor measure of animal welfare. It rises in response to all forms of excitement – so one could equally argue that free-range hens have a less boring life than battery birds.

To assess animal welfare we need to know whether excitement is perceived as pleasurable (fun) or unpleasurable (stress) … Although chickens can’t be interviewed, studies show they make consistent and convincing choices for free-range systems over battery cages.

— Professor Christine Nicol

The reality of battery cages

The European Scientific Veterinary Committee concluded all the way back in 1996 that the use of battery cages “has inherent severe disadvantages for the welfare of hens."

“Conventional cages: it was right (for the EU) to ban them — they provided terrible welfare."

– Professor Christine Nicol

That report led all 27 countries of the European Union to ban barren battery cages on animal welfare grounds.

More recently, in a 2006 comprehensive review of research into the welfare of laying hens, experts from the University of Bristol concluded that battery cages do not allow hens to fulfil their behavioural needs and preferences such as flapping their wings, perching, dustbathing to keep their feathers clean, or laying their eggs in a nest in privacy. They also found that the severe restriction of space can lead to health problems like osteoporosis. And while hens kept in cages might mean ‘simpler management’ (read: ‘cheaper for the industry’) — “the advantages can be matched by other systems that also enable a much fuller expression of normal behaviour."

Let’s face facts: the Australian egg industry doesn’t use battery cages because they want hens to be “happy" – it’s because it’s the cheapest way to produce eggs.

This is the reality of a battery cage: a hen confined to a space the size of an A4 piece of paper, for her whole life. A wire floor from which she gets no relief. She is unable to even stretch her wings. She will never breathe fresh air or feel the sun on her feathers, or even see the outside world until the last day of her life — as she is trucked to the abattoir at only 18 months of age.

These sensitive, intelligent, social animals deserve better. Cages ain’t no way to treat a lady — even if it’s convenient for the egg industry to pretend otherwise.

One bright young hen who started life in a battery cage is now a TV star! Meet Little Miss Sunshine, the celebrity hen melting hearts in our new ad campaign.

You can help!

Find out how you can free hens like Little Miss Sunshine from battery cages by choosing kindly — or even by giving a loving home to a rescued hen.

And click here for some amazing facts about the secret lives of chickens!