Cage-Free Egg Production – What Does This Mean?

March 11th, 2021

Free Range Chicken System

As food and egg industries worldwide continue to shift towards cage-free production and sourcing, a common question we get is: “but what does ‘cage-free’ actually mean?”

Navigating the transition to establish and maintain successful cage-free egg farms is more than just a simple process of removing cages. In this blog we give a brief overview of what “cage-free” means, the different housing systems that exist, and some key housing and management factors that contribute to a successful cage-free experience.

What does “cage-free” mean?

In cage-free systems the hens are not kept in cages and are able to move freely throughout the housing facility. Well-designed and managed cage-free systems allow hens to perform their natural behaviours including walking, perching, dustbathing, foraging, and laying their eggs in nests. There are different kinds of cage-free housing systems, including:

  • Barn, or ‘floor-based’ systems: the distinctive feature of these systems is that they have only one level of flooring, like a single-level house.
Free range Egg Chickens in the coop at chicken farm. This is brahma egg chickens grazing outside village farmland
  • Aviary systems: aviaries or ‘multi-tier’ systems provide multiple levels inside the shed for the birds to navigate between. Aviaries are typically used for large-scale production and are a popular choice with producers transitioning from cage to cagefree production as they maximise use of vertical space (can house more birds in the same amount of land area).
Aviary System
  • Free-range: both barns and multi-tier farms can provide access to the outdoors during the day. These systems are called ‘free-range’, and birds access the outdoor range area through ‘pop holes’.
Free Range Chicken System

Cage-free systems may be automated or manual. Large producers often have highly automated equipment, including conveyor belts which collect eggs, feed and drinker systems which are automatically re-filled and automatically dispense feed and water to the birds, mechanised ventilation systems, and automatic lighting schedules using timers. Alternatively, producers may have manual systems or partially-automated systems – for example, they may have an automatic drinking system but manual egg collection.

Housing design and management

In addition to being cage-free, farms need to be well designed and managed in order to provide good animal welfare. This includes the following:

  • Allowing natural behaviours by providing perches, nests, litter, space and enrichment (objects and materials for hens to peck at);
  • Health management through the prevention of infectious disease and severe feather pecking;
  • Good training of farm workers in handling and management.

Using best practices is crucial for a successful, profitable and sustainable farm. At Global Food Partners we understand the complexity of this topic and work one-on-one with producers to help identify and overcome the unique challenges they face in cage-free production. Together with our industry partners, including Aeres University of Applied Sciences, we will also be launching cage-free model farms in China in Indonesia, as well as a comprehensive online training programme in cage-free management. These programmes, to be launched in upcoming months, will give producers the training they need to ensure sustainability, including good welfare practices and a competitive business advantage.

Want to learn more about how we can work together? Send us a message here – we’d be happy to chat!

© Global Food Partners Inc.