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Egg farmers lead hen housing innovations

A substantial portion of the industry has already transitioned to newer systems

Posted: November 28, 2013


Ben Waldner
Photo credit: Egg Farmers of Alberta

The shift is on toward new welfare-friendly 'furnished' housing systems for laying hens, with egg farmers themselves leading the charge.

At their AGM earlier this year, Egg Farmers of Alberta voted to pursue a new policy to support this transition, which following further consultations was officially passed this October. It states that no new conventional or enrichable cage systems will be allowed to be installed in Alberta after December 31, 2014.

"There was a lot of support for this from our producers," says Ben Waldner, chair of Egg Farmers of Alberta, which along with other major provincial livestock producer organizations is a long-time member of Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC). "It's something we've discussed for several years and producers making new installations are going this direction. We realize it is the way of the future and it makes sense. But we also wanted to do it in a coordinated way with some time to adjust. It's about enhancing the welfare of the animal. It's also about making sure it works for the producers."

Egg Farmers of Canada has since pursued similar action through its own motion at meetings this summer. Egg Farmers of Alberta then selected the end of 2014 date to align with the same date targeted by Egg Farmers of Canada. Egg Farmers of Manitoba, which was the first provincial organization to adopt a policy to shift from conventional cages has also since adjusted its timeframe to the same target.

The move has also been taken with awareness and anticipation of the changes that will be coming following the process underway to update the national Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Laying Hens, facilitated by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). Egg Farmers of Canada initiated this process with the support of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council and Pullet Growers of Canada.

"There has been a major focus on working together as an industry on this, not just in Alberta and not even just producers but consulting nationally and with other parts of the value chain," says David Webb, Marketing & Communications manager with Egg Farmers of Alberta. "The policy reflects the trends with consumer demand and the direction our producers have already been headed. It's an important step that formalizes this transition."

Under the Egg Farmers of Alberta policy, conventional cages will not be phased-out by the end of 2014; farmers just won't be able to install any new conventional cage systems. Those farmers already operating conventional cages will be allowed to continue to do so.

The new language of hen housing

As hen housing evolves so too is the terminology. Here's a breakdown:

Conventional. This is the term for the basic cages that have been used by most of the industry and associated with the negative term battery cages. Under the new policy, farmers will not be allowed to install any new conventional cage systems after 2014.

Enrichable. These are a type of cage a step ahead in evolution from conventional - they are designed with standard cages that can be enlarged and fitted with comfort features such as scratch pads and nest boxes. These too will be transitioned away from with the new policy, which has the long-term intent for these types of comforts to be standard rather than optional.

Furnished. This is the term egg farmers have now adopted for the new cages that will become the wave of the future. Until recently they have been known as enriched cages but furnished is a term that will have greater longevity. It reflects that these cages will have comfort features such as scratch pads, nest boxes and perches.

Alberta's proactive approach

The new policy is the latest step for an Alberta egg industry that has historically been progressive on the subject of hen housing, says David Webb of Egg Farmers of Alberta. Milestones include:

1990. Alberta became the first province in Canada to regulate cage density, by enforcing the national Code of Practice for layer hens.

2005. An Alberta egg farmer installed the first enrichable housing system in Canada.

2009. An Alberta egg farmer installed the first fully enriched housing system in Canada.

2006 to present. A growing number of egg farmers that have either built new barns or renovated existing barns, have chosen to install an alternative housing system such as enriched, free-run, aviary or free-range. In 2006, 98.5% of the province's egg farmers utilized conventional housing, but that number is now down to 82.8%.

2012 and 2013. Over the past two years, every Alberta egg farmer who has faced a hen housing decision has chosen an alternative system over a conventional cage system.


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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