The welfare of laying hens

I.C. de Jong, H.J. Blokhuis

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperAcademic


The conditions under which laying hens are housed remain a major welfare concern. It is one of the most intensive forms of animal production and the number of animals involved is very high. According to Directive 1999/74/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens unenriched cages will be prohibited from 2012 onwards. The provisions of the Directive are being progressively implemented since 2002. Both the recent report of the European Food Safety Authority (Welfare aspects of various systems for keeping laying hens) and the EU funded LayWel project, evaluated the various welfare aspects of different housing systems for laying hens. In the LayWel project special emphasis was put on furnished cages but also non cage systems,
such as aviaries and free range systems, were investigated. Here we give an overview of the most severe risks for poor laying hen welfare in the different housing systems, as indicated by the LayWel project and the EFSA report. Laying hens place a high value on a discrete nest space. The LayWel database illustrates a high use of the nest box in all housing systems and indicates a risk to welfare of hens in conventional cages where no nest box is available. Dustbathing and foraging are generally accepted as high priority behaviours. Depending on the lay-out, these behaviours can not be (fully) performed in furnished cages, which is a threat to bird welfare in these housing systems. Feather pecking is still a very predominant welfare problem in birds, specifically in non cage systems with a prevalence between 40-80% in commercial flocks. In addition, it should be noticed that the rearing period is of primary importance for the adaptation of the
hens to the housing system during the laying period.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2014
EventXIIth European Poultry Conference - Verona, Italy
Duration: 10 Sep 200614 Sep 2006


ConferenceXIIth European Poultry Conference

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    de Jong, I. C., & Blokhuis, H. J. (2014). The welfare of laying hens. Paper presented at XIIth European Poultry Conference, Verona, Italy.