Battery Hens

Right now in Australia, 11 million 'battery' hens1 are confined
to small cages in which they are unable to perform most of their
natural behaviours. 

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Right now in Australia, eleven million ‘battery’ hens1are confined to small cages in which they are unable to exercise most of their natural behaviours. Despite increasing community awareness about their plight, the vast majority of egg-laying hens live this way, warehoused with hundreds of thousands of other birds.

Battery cages are used on factory farms to confine egg-laying hens. Despite increasing community awareness about their plight, the vast majority of egg-laying hens live this way, warehoused with hundreds of thousands of other birds.

Permanent confinement

Hens in battery cages spend their lives in artificially lit surroundings designed to maximise laying activity.2 Each hen has between 3 and 20 cage mates3 and is allocated space equivalent to little more than an A4 sized piece of paper.4 This is insufficient room to act on natural instincts like preening, nesting, foraging and dust bathing.5

These birds spend their time continually standing on sloping wire floors designed to facilitate egg collection, many experience chronic pain from the development of lesions and other foot problems.6

Debeaking

Due to the suppression of many of their natural instincts and social interactions, chickens raised in battery cages often become frustrated. This may trigger pecking, bullying and cannibalism.7 In an attempt to prevent this behaviour from causing injuries, factory farmers routinely conduct beak-trimming or 'debeaking' on chicks.8 This involves the practical removal or burning off of the upper and lower beak through the application of an electrically heated blade.9

Despite the fact that debeaking is known to cause acute and chronic pain (particularly in older birds) due to tissue damage and nerve injury,10 no State or Territory law in Australia requires pain relief to be used in conjunction with the procedure.

Emotional but unprotected

These harmful practices ignore the research which demonstrates that like humans, chickens experience physical sensations and emotional responses such as pain, fear, anxiety, pleasure and enjoyment.11 Studies have shown that chickens are highly social animals with complex cognitive abilities.12

Like meat chickens, battery hens are supposedly protected by State and Territory animal welfare laws13 and by the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (4th Edition) (the Poultry Code). Clearly, these are inadequate in protecting battery hens from enduring the above cruelty.

Making progress

The continuing refusal by Australian State and Territory Ministers to ban battery cages stands in stark contrast to developments overseas. The European Union (EU) legislated to phase out the cages by 2012, with the UK having met this target and 14 other member countries facing legal action for failing to comply.14 Some EU countries, such as Switzerland15 and Austria,16 have long banned the use of battery cages.

Voters in the US state of California have approved a ban on battery cages by 201517 and Michigan followed suit committing to a phase out of battery cages by 201918.

While legislative changes in the EU and the US are encouraging, the real victory to date lies in the support that consumers are demonstrating for alternatives to the battery cage system. In the UK and Ireland, sales of cage-free eggs have overtaken sales of battery eggs,19 while Australian sales of cage-free eggs (including free range, barn laid and organic) grew 67% from 2005 to 2010.20 Through their purchasing decisions, Australians send a strong message to politicians to fall into line with popular expectations and bring an end to the widespread abuses associated with battery cage production.

 

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