The clock ticks inexorably toward a minute past midnight on January 1st, 2012 when barren battery cages and the sale of eggs laid by chickens in them will be illegal throughout the European Union.
This date is an important marker in our effort to end factory farming by 2050.
Barren battery cages are so small that a chicken cannot even stretch her wings in them. They do not include any facilities for her to perch, nest or scratch. In Europe, a battery cage typically holds four or five hens with a legal floor space allowance per bird of less than an A4 sheet of paper.
As important a victory for farmed animals as this is – and one that would not have been possible without you and thousands of others who oppose factory farming – our attention is now set on the next step.
We must end the so-called ‘enriched’ cage, which, for many farms, is replacing the barren battery cage. No chicken deserves to live in any cage. Further, we seek to ban the sale of eggs from chickens in enriched cages.
‘Enriched’ cages may be slightly larger than barren battery cages but they will still hold, depending on their size and design, ten to 60 or more hens. They must include a nest box for egg laying, some litter material for pecking and scratching and 15cm of perch for each hen. But these “enrichments” are not enough to improve significantly the birds’ welfare. ‘Enriched’ cages, like barren battery cages, still crowd birds together and severely restrict their movement and natural behaviour.
This is why we will not stop until all cages for all egg-laying chickens are illegal throughout the EU as well as the sale of eggs from them. Compassion believes every chicken must live in a well-managed cage-free system which includes plenty of access to the outdoors.
Sadly, many, if not all, chickens alive today will never be able to fulfil their behavioural and psychological needs. They will never bath in dust, doze in the sun, grub for food in the ground and live in social groups contentedly with their own kind. This is why we believe making the barren battery cage illegal and banning enriched cages are important steps toward ending factory farming.
There are some lucky birds, though, who are given a second chance.
I know because we share our home with four of them. My wife, Helen, and I celebrated recently our first year of living with Henna, Honey, Hetty and Hope. We witnessed bedraggled birds blossom into healthy hens who treat each day as a new adventure. They enrich our lives more than we can possibly say. On our recent honeymoon I wrote about them. I look forward to sharing with you soon here our six-part story, ‘Living with hens’.
The good news is that our hens are not alone. The Battery Hen Welfare Trust says that in the last three years some 60,000 ex-battery hens annually started new lives in people’s gardens. Further, since 2004 more than 276,000 lucky chickens moved from indoor, intensive cages to outdoor, extensive back yards. By the way, have you seen the heart-warming photographs taken by Ed Thompson of ex-battery hens given a new lease on life? This lovely photo essay was recently featured by National Geographic magazine.
More than a quarter of a million re-homed hens is a lot of birds but the number pales into comparison when there are some 360 million egg-laying chickens in the EU. About two-thirds of them are confined in barren battery cages.
Nevertheless, as important as it is to help each and every individual bird we must also end the institutional practice of keeping them in cages.
This is why I ask you to join us in the Big Move!