Higher welfare housing alternatives for egg-laying hens include cage-free, free-range, or pastured raised systems. In the US, almost 35% of eggs now come from cage-free systems.
Cage-free systems (no outdoor access)
While the term “cage-free” is legally undefined, cage-free systems typically house hens on a littered barn floor or in aviaries with multiple tiers including a litter floor. Even though cage-free systems may not provide outdoor access, they do allow for greater expression of hens’ natural behaviors. They can stretch, flap their wings, run, and fly. They can also perform other natural behaviors such as pecking, scratching and laying their eggs in a nest.
"Organic" on a carton of eggs means the feed given to the hens is organic. It does not mean the hens were raised in higher welfare conditions, and these hens may still be housed in cages.
All chickens certified as USDA Organic must be given at least some outdoor access, but it can be limited to a concrete screened-in patio. Furthermore, young hens can be kept in cages for five weeks when they are first moved into the laying house.
Free-range and pasture-raised systems
In the US, egg producers must show that the birds they raise have some kind of outdoor access in order for their eggs to be labeled “free-range” or “pasture-raised”. However, the "free-range" label does not guarantee that hens have outdoor access every day or enough outdoor space is available for the hens to use simultaneously. More reliable standards ensuring hens have meaningful outdoor access are available from third-party humane certifications, including Animal Welfare Approved, Regenerative Organic Certified, Global Animal Partnership Step 3 or above, or Certified Humane free-range or pasture-raised.
Help hens get out of cages
Find out how you can help get hens out of cages and into higher-welfare systems.