The practice of keeping egg-laying hens in a battery cage like this one from our collection began as early as the 1930’s. Arguments were made that this new housing unit, compared to a traditional family farm-style coop, barn or facility, made it easier to care for the birds, in a higher density, and using a smaller staff. Farmers believed that the eggs were cleaner and the birds had fewer internal parasites. By 1990, 95% of all eggs in the United States were derived from hens kept in battery cages on what are commonly known as factory farms, industrialized farms, or CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). Elsewhere, the statistic was 75%. The space made available inside one of these cages per bird has been equated to the size of a sheet of paper.
While recognizing the positive attributes of a system designed around a battery cage, farmers and scientists also acknowledged its negative attributes: difficulty in disposing of manure, greater number of troublesome flies, the weakening of a bird’s bones and body, and more. Osteoporosis, cannibalism, feather- and vent-pecking, and other abnormal behaviors are common amongst these confined animals.
In terms of animal welfare, the battery cage became and still is hotly contested. After a twelve-year phase-out period, the European Union just this year (2012) banned the conventional battery cage. New cages must be enlarged and equipped with enrichment, such as a nesting box, litter, perches, and a device to shorten claws. In passing California’s Proposition 2 of 2008, the “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act”, battery cages were banned for the first time in the United States. The ban is slated to go into effect in 2015. The language of Proposition 2 made no mention of minimum square footage requirements for each bird. Instead, the legislation stated that egg-laying hens (and calves raised for veal and pregnant sows) must be able to stand up, lie down, extend their limbs fully, and turn around freely.
Image of a typical shed outfitted with battery cages provided by Farm Sanctuary.
Multiple hens confined inside one battery cage. Image provided by Wikipedia.
Wire, metal, plastic
Gift of Valerie Belt