Colony Battery Cages: Quick Facts

Colony battery cages are the new industry standard for keeping layer hens in confinement. Here we provide the answers to frequently asked questions on this issue.

  • Have battery cages been banned?

In December 2012 the government released a new welfare code for layer hens that banned the standard battery cage. In reality, it allows a new kind of cage, the colony battery cage – a system that a number of other countries and retailers are already moving away from. These cages will become the norm for New Zealand cage egg producers by 2022.

  • What are colony cages?

Colony cages are a new type of battery cage. In the marketing, they talk about ‘enrichments’ but these are minimal and the birds still spend their life confined. Cage sizes vary but each hen must have a mere 750 square centimetres, (about the size of an A4 sheet of paper), just slightly more space than in a standard battery cage.

Even if you ignore that they are caged, there are also other issues. The hens still cannot walk about or wing-flap without difficulty. Colony cages are also low and do not allow the hens to perform a normal range of head movements.

  • What are the ‘enrichments’ found in colony cages?

Colony cages provide one ‘nest box’ for up to 60 birds, so competition for this space will be high, which can lead to aggression. These nest boxes are nothing more than an area delineated by hanging plastic flaps, with no bedding material, frustrating the hens’ instinct to create a warm, comfortable space in which to lay their eggs.

Rubber mats are provided to shorten claws, but fail to address the real problem of hens being unable to scratch around, something they spend much of their time doing in non-cage environments. Colony cages contain perches for the hens to roost on, however they are too low to be perceived as safe by the hens and lack of access to a safe perch can lead to agitation.

And of course, with so many hens crammed into the cages, there is not enough space for most of the hens to use the enrichments anyway.

Read more about the so-called enrichments in colony cages. SAFE believes that colony cages still fail to meet the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, as hens are unable to perform their full range of normal patterns of behaviour. The government has yet to acknowledge this.

  • What do the terms colony laid and colony system mean?

Eggs sourced from colony-caged birds are labeled with terms such as colony laid and colony system. This is a marketing ploy to mislead the public into buying cage eggs, despite the majority of people being against keeping hens in cages.

  • What is a furnished system?

This is another term that may be used to refer to colony cages, a term typically used overseas.

  • What is the situation overseas?

Colony cages have already been banned in parts of Europe, such as Switzerland and Austria, and some overseas supermarkets are refusing to sell colony laid eggs. Find out more about the situation in Europe. New Zealand is lagging far behind since we are only at the stage of introducing these cruel cages.

  • What are the alternatives to buying colony eggs?

Check out our Guide to Egg Labelling for more information on hen housing.

Many people assume that free-range farming gives animals a happy life, free of the cruelty their factory-farmed kin suffer. However, there are some important things you should know before choosing this option. Many people opt to avoid all eggs. This is a healthy choice and is easy as there are many alternatives to cooking with eggs.