With Easter around the corner, eggs are a popular item in the shopping carts of many Canadians. Eggs are used for many Easter traditions, such as Easter egg hunts, Easter egg decorating and baking Easter recipes. Sadly, 71% of the eggs produced in B.C. come from laying hens that have spent their entire adult lives in cages. This Easter, you can get cracking on better welfare for laying hens.
The issue with cages
The majority of laying hens raised in cages are housed in conventional cages, often called battery cages. This housing system allows for high production and efficiency. However, this comes at a cost to the hens’ welfare.
These cages typically house four to eight hens per cage. Hens have very little space – as little as 432 square centimeters each, which is smaller than a standard-sized piece of paper! Hens cannot dustbathe, perch, forage or nest. This can cause boredom and frustration, which may lead to painful feather pecking, cannibalism and even death.
Some laying hens are raised in enriched cages. These cages offer slightly more space and provide a perch, a nest box and a foraging area. However, these cages are still very restrictive, so the hens are not able to fully benefit from these enrichments.
Thankfully, conventional cages will be completely phased out of egg production in Canada by 2036, but enriched cages will still be allowed. You can support a better life for laying hens by buying cage-free eggs.
How to find cage-free eggs
1. Choose eggs certified by an independent animal welfare certification
Animal welfare certification programs are dedicated to improving the lives of farmed animals. These programs require farmers to meet high animal welfare standards. This includes prohibiting hens in cages, providing more space for each hen, and creating an enriching environment where they can perform their natural behaviours. Farms are independently inspected to ensure the standards are being met, meaning these are programs you can trust.
Certified eggs come at a higher cost, but you are investing in a better life for laying hens. The BC SPCA recommends the following programs, so be sure to keep an eye out in the grocery store for their labels!
2. Look for ‘cage-free’, ‘free-run’ and ‘free-range’ labels on egg cartons
Each of these labels mean that the laying hens were not housed in cages. If there is no label stating otherwise, the hens were raised in cages! In a cage-free or free-run housing system, the hens are raised indoors loose in a barn where they have access to nests for egg-laying, litter for dustbathing and scratching, and perches. In a free-range housing system, the hens have the same benefits of free-run housing, but also have access to the outdoors where they can search for bugs, enjoy the sunshine and explore a larger area.
Eggs with these labels may come at a higher cost, but they were laid by hens that were never confined to small, cramped cages.
Use our new egg buying guide (PDF) to learn more about common labels on egg cartons and unscramble their meanings!
3. Replace eggs with an egg alternative
If you are looking to decorate Easter eggs, try painting wooden eggs or use ceramic dyeable eggs instead! There are also plenty of egg substitutes you can use to make your favourite Easter recipes. Try replacing one egg with:
- One tablespoon ground flaxseed plus three tablespoons water
- One tablespoon chia seeds plus three tablespoons water
- One quarter cup applesauce
- One quarter cup pumpkin puree
- Half cup mashed banana
- One quarter cup yogurt
Other Easter tips to help animals
With Easter around the corner, it’s a good idea to keep your pet’s safety in mind while also considering the well-being of other animals, including rabbits and chickens. Check out our list to make sure your Easter is a hopping good time for both you and the animals in your life.
Are you passionate about farm animal welfare? Use the form below to subscribe to FarmSense newsletter. Four times per year you will receive news and information on what the BC SPCA is doing to help further farm animal welfare in Canada!