Chickens raised for eggs – called egg-laying hens or chickens (also ‘layers’ or ‘laying hens’) – can lay more than 320 eggs per year per hen! In Canada, over 24 million hens lay more than 616 million eggs each year (source: 2016 census). That’s a lot of eggs!
Over 90% of laying hens spend their lives on intensive farms in small, cramped cages, called battery cages. Unlike their busty, rapidly growing meat bird cousin, the broiler chicken, laying hens have been bred to produce a large number high quality eggs. As a result, older laying hens (called “spent hens“) have a much leaner body and often end up being used for soups or pet food products when they are slaughtered at one to two years of age.
Thinking of getting your own backyard (urban) chickens? Make sure you are up to date on what is required to care for backyard chickens and whether your municipality allows them.
What are the main concerns for egg-laying hen welfare?
- Battery cages:
Ninety-five percent of egg-laying hens in Canada are confined to small, cramped cages, called battery cages. There are four to six hens housed per cage, with each hen receiving as little as 432 square centimeters (67 square inches) of space, which is less than a standard size piece of notebook paper. There is little to no enrichment in the cage, leaving the hens with nothing to do but lay eggs and peck each other.
Chickens have many important natural behaviours that help them feel clean, safe, and comfortable in their environment – behaviours like perching, dust bathing and finding a secluded nest in which to lay their eggs. These behaviours cannot be performed by hens kept crowded into a bare battery cage. As a result, birds may become bored, frustrated, stressed and aggressive, and may pluck out each others’ feathers or even begin to cannibalize one another. You can see a difference when you look at an egg laid by a stressed hen.
- Painful practices:
Beak trimming is routinely performed on hens to stop them from pecking at each other. A blade or laser is used to perform the procedure in the first few days or weeks of life. If done incorrectly, it can cause lasting pain for the hen.
Get the full story on:
- How egg-laying hens are commonly raised in Canada (PDF)
- How farmers are beginning to think outside the cage
- The cage-free egg conflict: Why farmers and grocers are butting heads
- Why cage-free eggs may be healthier (PDF) for both you and the hen
Support a better life for egg-laying hens
SPCA Certified farmers prove that it’s possible to meet the needs of laying hens on egg farms. SPCA Certified standards include stringent requirements, such as:
- Use of battery cages is prohibited; all egg-laying hens must be housed cage-free with enough space to allow them to spread their wings freely
- Beak trimming is prohibited
- Enrichment is provided to allow the hens to perform important natural behaviours, like dust bathing, preening (feather cleaning), perching, scratching and foraging for food
Farmers who successfully meet SPCA Certified standards are able to sell their foods with the program’s stamp of approval – the little red barn label. If you or someone you know eats eggs, you can help egg-laying hens lead better lives and support the farmers who care for them by finding a SPCA Certified retailer near you.
Understand your food labels
When shopping for humane eggs, pay careful attention to the labels. Here are a few quick tips for finding the right eggs:
- Green light: best choices for welfare.
Certifications like SPCA Certified, Certified Organic and Animal Welfare Approved are your best options for supporting high welfare farming practices. These farms have been regularly audited to strict requirements for animal care and welfare.
- Yellow light: next best choice.
Labels like free run, free range and pasture-raised mean the laying hens are not caged. Free run birds roam about freely in an indoor environment. Free range and pastured birds have access to an outdoor area, weather permitting.
- Red light: these labels are misleading!
Don’t be fooled by claims like ‘comfort coop’ or ‘Born-3’. Without a certification or a meaningful description of animal care, these labels do not mean better treatment for birds.
Take action for all farm animals
We are always working to build a better future for farm animals in B.C. and across Canada, but we need your help. Help us speak for animals by participating in any of our farm animal welfare campaigns.