Let Us Eggsplain

Do you feel like buying eggs has become more complicated? You’re not alone. Words like “organic,” “cage-free” and “all-natural” are now found on egg cartons to the befuddlement of many consumers. We’d like to make your trip to the egg case a little simpler, so we’ve provided an infographic explaining the differences among three of the main laying hen housing systems used to produce eggs: conventional cage, cage-free aviary and enriched colony. We’ve also broken down the pros and cons of each housing system from a research study conducted by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, which looked at five areas of sustainability: food safety, the environment, hen health and well-being, worker health and safety and food affordability. It’s important to note that while there certainly are trade-offs found in each of the three housing systems studied, safe, high-quality eggs can be produced in each.

Click on the infographic below to open a PDF.

chicken_housing_infographic_v2_cs5

chicken_housing_infographic_v2_cs5

 

CONVENTIONAL CAGE

Pros Cons
  • Eggs produced in the conventional cage system were most affordable.
  • Incidences of aggression were lowest in the conventional cage system, with hens also showing the least amount of feather loss.
  • Workers in the conventional cage system were exposed to significantly lower concentrations of airborne particles.
  • Bone quality of hens in conventional cages was not as good as in other systems due to lack of exercise.
  • In regards to indoor air quality, ammonia emissions in the conventional cage system were almost twice that of the enriched colony, negatively impacting worker health.
  • While all systems were rated equally safe, the conventional cage system posed some hazards for workers.

 

CAGE-FREE AVIARY

Pros Cons
  • Hens in the cage-free aviary had more opportunity for freedom of movement.
  • Hens in the cage-free aviary had the best bone quality due to their ability to exhibit natural behaviors and exercise.
  • Workers in the cage-free aviary had no issues gaining access to the system.
  • Mortality due to cannibalism and aggression was highest in the cage-free aviary, making the mortality rate double that found in the conventional cage system.
  • The cage-free aviary system had the greatest impact on worker health due to poorer air quality.
  • The cage-free aviary system produced the least affordable eggs, with costs per dozen eggs substantially higher than eggs from the conventional cage or enriched colony systems.

 

ENRICHED COLONY

Pros Cons
  • Ammonia emissions were lowest in the enriched colony system, which has a positive impact on worker health.
  • Hens in the enriched colony system had greater freedom of movement and ability to exhibit natural behaviors than hens in conventional cages.
  • In the enriched colony system, there was a lower incidence of hens with foot problems than in the conventional cage system.
  • Hens in the enriched colony had more feather loss than hens in conventional cages, suggesting more aggression.
  • Costs to produce eggs were 13 percent higher per dozen eggs than in the conventional cage system.
  • While all systems were rated equally safe, workers in the enriched colony system often accessed the hens by using the cage fronts instead of approved ladders.

For more information on hen mortality in each of the three housing systems, click here.

Chicken Butts” by Cody and Maureen is licensed under CC BY.