Searching for solutions
Science plays a big part in modern egg farming, particularly in the area of animal welfare. Because we cannot talk to hens, science provides a window into their health and overall wellbeing, enabling us to better evaluate the sorts of farming practices that are best for them.
Ongoing research in New Zealand and around the world also helps us improve hen nutrition, egg quality, and further develop housing systems including barn and free-range.
You can read more of the latest information, reports and research on these and other egg farming topics compiled by the EPF in our Egg News library.
The Five Freedoms
The welfare of layer hens in considered within an internationally recognised framework known as the ‘Five Freedoms’. These are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;
- Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
- Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind;
- Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment to avoid mental suffering.
Colonies – scientifically proven
Investigation into alternative housing methods, particularly colonies, has been well informed by research here and overseas. Colonies were originally developed in Europe and are the result of many years of hen behavioural studies working to balance welfare concerns with the need for a continuous supply of affordable eggs.
Already in European countries where egg farming methods have been reviewed under such structured and scientifically sound processes, colonies are being used as a best practice farming method alongside barn and free-range. Colonies have also been proposed for use in the USA, with support from the American Humane Society.
As part of an extensive review of colonies for New Zealand use, a local study by the EPF, in conjunction with leading animal welfare experts from Bristol University and MPI,evaluated the welfare and health implications of colonies with positive results. This involved a flock of 45,000 hens housed in colonies at a farm near Dunedin.
Overall, the findings were consistent with European studies, finding colony hens:
- Laid a comparable quality and number of eggs as conventional caged hens
- Engaged in normal feeding and used the furnishings provided
- Maintained good health, with no differences in body weight compared to conventional cage or free range hens; good feathering was maintained
- Showed lower stress levels than conventional caged hens, and beak-trimmed colony flocks fared even better