In January 2012 it became illegal in the EU for commercial hens to be kept in barren battery cages. Instead we now have what are called “colony” hens who are kept in larger enriched cages with access to perches for roosting, a small nesting area and enough height to stretch their necks. This is a step forward for animal welfare, allowing the hens to express some of their natural behaviours, but they are still confined in groups of up to 90 birds in a cage, they cannot scratch or have a dust bath, and they have no access to the outdoors.
The British Hen Welfare Trust is working with consumers with the aim of encouraging UK farmers to invest in well managed free range systems so that there is no longer the need for any caged birds in this country. It is through The British Hen Welfare Trust that we have got all our ex battery chickens in the past. Up until this year they gave priority to hens from barren cages for rehoming at the end of their commercial lives but they also occasionally rehome ex barn hens. Our last batch of hens were from a barn system and they were actually in a poorer condition than the previous lot of ex battery hens; all lame with deformed feet and almost bald from feather pecking. I always assumed barn systems had good animal welfare standards but this raises questions and strengthens the argument that all hens should be in free range outdoor systems.