Typically, colony battery cages only contain one ‘nest box’ of minimalist design (plastic flaps) for about 60 birds. Competition for the nest box increases aggression levels and hens are unable to spend as much time in the nest as they would like.
“Decades of scientific studies evidence suggest that hens are frustrated and distressed, and that they suffer in…cages because there is no outlet for nesting behaviour.” Hens tend to lay eggs around dawn time, which means there will be more competition for the limited nest boxes around this time. Studies have shown that hens will work harder to gain access to a nest box, than they will to get food after food deprivation.
Colony cages contain perches for the hens to roost on. There is a great deal of doubt as to whether these perches are enough for the hens. Colony cages are very crowded, and most research done on perching is done with hens that have much more space. The height of these perches is another potential issue. Hens naturally roost at night in order to escape predators. The perches in colony cages are too low to be perceived as safe by the hens, and lack of access to a safe perch can lead to agitation.
Claw-shortening devices such as scratch pads only tackle the symptoms—overgrown claws—rather than the cause of the welfare problem, which is the inability of caged hens to scratch and peck meaningfully. Hens would normally spend 50-90% of their waking time foraging but the barren environment of the cages means they are unable to do this.
Colony cages also fail to provide the hens with the opportunity to dust bathe – under the Code of Welfare, producers are not required to provide any dust-bathing material. In its place hens engage in sham or vacuum dust bathing on the wire floor. This shows that the hens’ instinct is to engage in this behaviour—to keep their feathers in good condition and remove parasites—and that the cages do not meet their needs. Under normal circumstances, hens would dust bathe for 20-30 minutes every two days. In cages hens will go for longer without dust bathing behaviour, but the motivation to do so is still very strong. The resulting frustration can lead to harmful pecking of cage mates.
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