Take action Free hens from cages

Calling for change

All animals deserve a life worth living, and hens are no exception. Confining hens in colony cages is not only cruel but is also completely unnecessary.

Hens are intelligent, curious and socially complex birds, and like all animals, they have natural behavioural needs. In an outdoor environment, a hen will spend her days scratching at the earth, searching for food, dust bathing, stretching her wings and basking in the sun.

While battery cages are now banned, over 1.2 million hens remain confined in colony cages in Aotearoa.

Hardly distinguishable from battery cages, these cages directly breach the Animal Welfare Act 1999 which requires that the physical, health and behavioural needs of animals be met. The overcrowded conditions of colony cages prevent hens from displaying normal patterns of behaviour and living a life free of unnecessary pain.

It’s time to empty the cages.


Colony cages are stacked to the ceiling in rows inside environmentally controlled, windowless sheds. Each colony cage will house between 60 and 80 hens, only allowing each hen the size of an A4 piece of paper (750 square centimetres of space) to live out their lives. The egg industry claims colony cages are the ideal alternative to battery cages because they offer hens access to “enrichments.” These enrichments include perches, one nest area (without any nesting material) and a small rubber scratch pad.

With so many hens confined to one cage, competition to access these minimal “enrichments” can cause hens to become frustrated and aggressive. With only one nest box in a cage housing over 60 hens, hens can become irritated, pace and delay laying their eggs.

Overcrowded conditions inside colony cages can cause hens to experience elevated levels of distress. This can lead to aggressive behaviour like pecking, feather pulling and cannibalism. To minimise aggression, lighting within sheds is kept dim and hens have the tips of their sensitive beaks removed to reduce pecking injuries.

The physical health of caged hens is frequently poor. Stress, disease, severe feather loss and brittle bones (weakened from lack of movement) are just some of the serious health issues hens may experience.

Hens in colony cages may also experience emotional distress, including anxiety, stress, boredom and fear. If aggressive hens are present inside a cage, submissive, sick or injured hens have nowhere to seek refuge. The day to day life of a caged hen is bleak, and it doesn’t have to be.

The physical health of caged hens is frequently poor. Stress, disease, severe feather loss and brittle bones (weakened from lack of movement) are just some of the serious health issues hens may experience.

Due to selective breeding a hen will lay around 300 eggs per year, a huge increase from the 12 to 20 laid by her wild ancestor. Continuous egg production increases bone fragility and osteoporosis in hens kept in factory farms, as it takes a lot of to create eggshells.

In December 2012, the Government released a new welfare code for hens kept to lay eggs which banned the standard battery cage. Colony cages have been approved as the new caged system to replace battery cages. Colony cages have been labeled as “enriched” or “furnished” because the hens are provided with perches, a small rubber scratch pad and a single nest box. While these enrichments may sound good on paper, the reality is far from it.

Colony cages have been approved as the new caged system to replace soon-to-be illegal battery cages. In essence, colony cages are larger versions of battery cages that are capable of housing many more hens.

 You can find out more about the cages here: battery vs colony cages spot the difference

We are seeing incredible change for hens across New Zealand. Three quarters (76%) of Kiwis polled want to see hens freed from cages. Supermarkets, foodservice groups, café outlets and restaurant chains across the country are committed to phasing out the use of cage eggs.

Around the world, hens are being spared from a lifetime in cages by progressive politicians. Cages are banned or being phased out in parts of Europe, including Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, the Walloon Region of Belgium and Israel. In the USA, nine states have already banned the sale and production of cage eggs.

New Zealand’s leaders know Kiwis care about hens. In 2014 and 2017, the Labour Party promised to ban colony cages. The Green Party of Aotearoa has also committed to free hens from cages.

New Zealand voters have elected the Labour Party to lead our country for another three years. Now is the time to stand together and demand positive change for hens from our politicians.

Colony cages are already being phased out in parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, the Walloon Region of Belgium and Austria. Some states Washington, Oregon, Michigan and California in the United States have legal bans on the sale and production of cage eggs and farms are changing to cage-free systems.

Together, we can create an Aotearoa where hens are treated as individuals, not commodities. We can create a New Zealand where hens live free from cages. It is as simple as choosing not to purchase eggs laid by caged hens, only supporting businesses that use cage-free eggs and demanding change from policy makers.

Hens who lay eggs in colony-cages may have their eggs labelled with terms such as ‘colony laid’ and ‘colony system.’ This is marketing speak used to mislead the public into buying cage eggs, as the majority of people are against keeping hens in cages.

Check out our Guide to Egg Labels for more information.

SAFE has helped lead the charge on freeing hens from a life in cages in Aotearoa.

And, worldwide, there has been a huge consumer movement away from cage eggs. SAFE part of the Open Wing Alliance. Initiated by the Humane League, the Open Wing Alliance is made up of 55 animal groups from around the world.

In response to this, many food retailers, restaurants, cafés, fast food outlets, hotels and food service and manufacture brands have pledged to go cage free. See the full list of international companies that are going cage free.

The egg industry only requires female birds, so male chicks are considered an unwanted byproduct and are killed shortly after they hatch. Over three million day-old male chicks are killed annually in New Zealand. Male chicks are killed either by gassing with carbon dioxide or are minced up alive in a process called maceration. The industry also refers to this process as “‘instantaneous fragmentation.”

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