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Research comment
Gaining insights into the health of non-caged layer hens
  1. Désirée S. Jansson, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECPVS
  1. Department of Animal Health and Antimicrobial Strategies, National Veterinary Institute, Uppsala, Sweden
  1. E-mail: desiree.jansson{at}

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An EU-wide ban on conventional battery cages came into force in 2012 (Directive 1999/74/EC) to improve the welfare of laying hens across Europe. As a result of the updated legislation, husbandry systems for laying hens have had to change significantly over a very short period of time. Today, there are four types of housing for laying hens: barns (indoor single- or multi-tier aviaries), free-range, organic and furnished cages (Fig 1); furnished cage systems are not allowed or are being phased out in some countries. Additionally, some countries outside the EU, for example, the USA, are gradually moving towards cage-free egg production in response to public concerns and commitments made by supermarket and restaurant chains to use cage-free systems.1

FIG 1: Commercial white laying hens in aviary housingPicture: Åsa Odelros

Animal husbandry and the design of animal housing systems affect both animal health and productivity. A multitude of factors are likely to influence layer health and welfare, including genetics, nutrition, stress, litter condition, pecking leading to injury, keel bone fractures, infectious agents and parasites.2 Cages provide protection against faecal-orally transmitted microorganisms and parasites by separating birds from their faeces, but they restrict mobility. Non-caged production on the other hand carry higher risks from exposure to microorganisms and some parasites, but allows chickens to exhibit more natural behaviours as it has greater …

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