Housing conditions and welfare of laying hens
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The huge production of eggs on a world-wide basis raises questions about the welfare of laying hens in the egg production industry. This study compared the laying hen welfare, based on the 5 animal freedoms, in the following housing systems: conventional cage, enriched cage, barn, free-range and organic. These housing systems each represent a different EU-egg code, which should represent a certain level of welfare for the consumer (in which conventional cage hens have the worst and organic hens the best welfare). Literature review showed that each system had its pros and cons. Natural behaviour was impaired in the conventional cage system, but cage-hens had less diseases and bone-fractures. Although free-ranging hens had the opportunity to express more natural behaviours, large group sizes caused severe feather pecking problems. Improvements are suggested for the housing systems as well as for the EU-egg code classifying systems. Housing systems should be designed according to the behavioural needs of the laying hen, as is done in the new Rondeel system in the Netherlands. Furthermore, each egg production company should be tested for laying hen welfare, and not for meeting the standard criteria of one of the housing systems. Thereby providing a more accurate estimation of the welfare of our egg producers for the consumer.