Imagine living the rest of your life in an elevator with six other people—being prevented from even the most basic activities! This is the kind of existence that a battery hen endures.
Chickens raised for egg production are referred to as laying hens. Currently, most of the 26 million egg-laying hens in Canada will spend their lives inside small wire cages known as ‘battery cages’. These barren enclosures are about the size of a filing cabinet drawer. Multiple hens—each with a wingspan of approximately 80cm—are crammed into a cage approximately 50 cm across. The lack of space prevents the animals from performing many of the most basic instinctive behaviors, like walking, laying their eggs in nests, perching or scratching and stretching their wings—actions that are necessary to their welfare.
Stress and overcrowding
Battery barns in Canada hold thousands of cages, each confining multiple birds, in tiers of two to eight cages high, with farms averaging more than 17, 000 birds. The extreme overcrowding and unnatural conditions lead to a multitude of problems, including foot and feather damage from the wire cages. In addition, the complete lack of exercise coupled with unnaturally high egg production causes osteoporosis, predisposing hens to painful broken bones.
Overcrowding can also lead to heat stress since adequate ventilation is virtually impossible to provide in these facilities during hot weather. During heat waves, millions of chickens can suffocate. What’s more, excrement and dust builds up in egg barns, leading to poor air quality and an unhealthy and stressful environment for these sensitive creatures.
Humane Society International/Canada campaigns against these extreme confinement systems because they so severely compromise the welfare of the hens. We work with restaurants, schools, universities and municipalities to help them transition to using cage-free eggs. Read more information on our campaign.
What you can do
One of the best ways to help improve the welfare of laying hens is through your consumer choices.
In the supermarket, labels on egg cartons can be confusing. Have a look at our guide to egg labels to make sure you know where your eggs come from.
HSI/Canada has partnered with the Vancouver Humane Society to educate Canadian consumers about more humane alternatives to eggs produced by battery cage hens. Learn more about the Chicken Out campaign!
Battery cages and food safety
Studies have linked cage housing environments to increases in risk of salmonella contamination, which poses a serious health risk to humans. Find out more.
Read the latest news about HSI’s work on intensive confinement issues around the world.