Furnished cages, sometimes called "enriched" or "modified" cages, are cages for egg laying hens which have been designed to overcome some of the welfare concerns of battery cages whilst retaining their economic and husbandry advantages, and also provide some of the welfare advantages of non-cage systems. Many design features of furnished cages have been incorporated because research in animal welfare science has shown them to be of benefit to the hens.
History and Legislation
Battery cages are already banned in several countries including Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands and prototype commercial furnished cage systems were being developed in the 1980s. In 1999, the European Union Council Directive 1999/74/EC banned the conventional battery cage in the EU from 2012, after a 10-year phase-out. As alternatives to battery cages, the EU Council Directive allowed non-cage systems and furnished cages. Furnished cages therefore represent a feasible alternative to battery cages in the EU after 2012.
Under Directive 1999/74/EC, furnished cages must provide at least the following: 750 cm2 per hen, of which 600 cm2 is 45 cm high, a nest, a littered area for scratching and pecking, 15 cm of perch and 12 cm of food trough per hen and a claw shortening device.
Austria banned battery cages in 2009 and is set to ban furnished cages by 2020. Belgium has also banned the battery cage – and proposes to ban furnished cages by 2024. Germany has introduced a ‘family cage’, which has more space than the furnished cages used in other countries, however, consumers in Germany have been rejecting these eggs. Outside the EU, Switzerland has already banned both the battery and furnished cage systems.
Furnished cages and battery cages
Furnished cages retain several advantages of battery cages in that they-
- Separate the eggs from the hens’ feces thereby keeping the eggs clean
- Protect the hens from predation
- Automatically collect the eggs thereby preventing egg-eating and floor-laying which both incur additional cost
- Retain a small group size which reduces injurious pecking behaviour
Furnished cages have welfare benefits additional to battery cages by providing -
- Additional space
- A nest
- A claw shortening device
- A dust bath/litter substrate
- A perch
- Easier access for depopulation
There is no clear limit to the size of the furnished cages. Although initial models were not much larger than conventional battery cages, most current designs house 40 to 80 hens although one system houses 115 hens. The depth of furnished cages is often more than the depth of battery cages and as a result, they are often arranged with only one cage row per level, i.e. not connected back-to-back. The more shallow cages can be connected back-to back. To create space for large groups of hens, some designs of furnished cages are very long. Cage bottoms are made of wire mesh or plastic slats and are sloped so that eggs not laid in the nest box roll onto an egg belt. Feed is provided in feeders outside the cage, although in some designs there may be internal feeders or a combination of the two. Perches in some designs are raised and in others are at floor level.
In a study which compared the welfare benefits of hens in furnished cages, battery cages, free range and barn systems, hens in furnished cages had the lowest faecal corticosterone (a hormone that indicates stress levels), the lowest number of hens that were vent pecked, lowest number of egg shells with calcium spots (an indicator of stress when the egg is temporarily retained by the hen), lowest number of egg shells with blood spots on (usually caused by prolapse), lowest score of skin damage, lowest severity of vent damage caused by vent pecking and lowest plumage soiling. Hens in furnished cages had a similar percentage of hens with recent keel fractures which are usually caused during depopulation (3.6%) compared to hens in barn (1.2%) and free-range systems (1.3%), all of which were considerably lower than in hens from battery cages (24.6%). Furthermore, hens in furnished cages had a smaller percentage of old keel fractures (31.7%) compared to hens in barn (69.1%) and free-range (59.8%) systems but more than hens in battery cages (17.7%). This indicates that furnished cages protect against the keel breaks that are common amongst non-caged hens and also protects against the effects of osteoporosis prevalent in battery cages causing bones to be weak and easily broken during depopulation. In this study, mortality rates were above the breed standards in all systems except the furnished cages.
Furnished cages provide more space than battery cages but still prevent some behaviours such as vigorous wing-flapping, flying, nest-building (no materials are provided) and inhibit others (comfort or grooming behaviours) determined partly by the numbers of hens in the cage. The hens are not separated from their feces as completely as hens in battery cages and therefore are at a greater risk of disease, although not as great as the risk to hens in non-cage systems. The small amount of litter that is provided in furnished cages is often distributed quickly or flicked out the cage, possibly resulting in frustration for hens wishing to dustbath and resulting in sham dustbathing. The nest boxes are often occupied by hens using the box for behaviours other than egg-laying (e.g. for sleeping or sham dustbathing) which could lead to frustration in hens wishing to lay an egg.
Production in furnished cages
Studies indicate that production in furnished cages is comparable to that in battery cages. Other studies indicate hens housed in furnished cages have better bodyweights and egg production compared to hens in battery cages.
- Abnormal behaviour of birds in captivity
- Cannibalism (poultry)
- Chicken#Poultry Farming
- Feather pecking
- "European Union Council Directive 1999/74/EC". Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- "Ecologist, September 2011". Retrieved January 22nd, 2012.
- "Laywel - Furnished cages". Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- Sherwin, C.M., Richards, G.J. and Nicol, C.J., (2010). Comparison of the welfare of layer hens in 4 housing systems in the UK. British Poultry Science, 51: 488-499
- "Production in Furnished Cages i". Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- "Innovax-Production in Furnished Cages ii". Retrieved 15 November 2011.