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Enriched cages

103. Opinion differs regarding the value of potential benefits to bird welfare arising from the enrichment of cages. There is a view that whilst non-cage alternatives to battery systems may, in the long-term, be the better way forward from the viewpoint of the birds' welfare, there is an urgent need for substantial effort to be put into improving (enriching) cages.

104. Another commonly held view is that an enriched battery cage is nonetheless a cage and as such is still unacceptable. It is argued that in this situation, enrichment may make little or no difference to public perception. However, public perception has not stopped a majority of consumers purchasing eggs from conventional battery systems. These eggs continue to sell, perhaps because of their lower cost in comparison with eggs from other systems. For the majority of consumers, the low cost is not perceived as coming at the expense of the birds welfare.

105. There have been detailed studies on cage enrichment. For example, experimental work with nests suggests that the presence of loose nesting material is of importance but other data indicate that a man made, pre-formed nest is acceptable. Whilst we can see benefits from some types of enrichment, further information is required about the relative importance of each of the various facilities and their commercial and practical viability. UK Agriculture Departments are therefore urged to continue to monitor closely the results of the developments in cage enrichment research and development programmes. We are not aware of any fully enriched systems being used commercially in this country.

106. The development of enriched cages on a commercial scale would lead to higher egg production costs than systems which allow each hen 450cm² of space. However, if it is accepted that the minimum space requirement in conventional cages should be increased to at least 600cm²/hen, then the cost difference will be less. FAWC is of the opinion that cage enrichment offers the possibility of improved hen welfare provided acceptable systems can be introduced practically.

Recommendations

107. We recommend that applied and carefully targeted research on the space and facilities required by hens in enriched cages should be continued and developed on a commercial scale. Measures must be made of the effect of space and facilities on both behaviour and production. This should take account of the quality of the environment, as it may be better for a hen to have less space in an enriched environment than more space in a barren cage where increased injurious pecking behaviour may occur resulting in the need to beak trim.

108. We have seen perches in battery cages and we know of evidence to suggest improved bone strength, although possibly at the expense of increased egg breakages. This modification could be readily made in cages at 600cm²/hen. If perches are incorporated they should provide 12cm of perch length per bird to allow all birds to perch at the same time. Where perches are provided, the height of the cage should be sufficient for the birds to be able to perch comfortably.