←Go back to RSPCA

RSPCA Australia knowledgebase

RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase

Search:     Advanced search

How much space does a free-range layer hen need?

Article ID: 565
Last updated: 22 Sep, 2016
Revision: 6
Views: 14787

In March 2016, Consumer Affairs Ministers agreed to the introduction of an information standard requiring eggs labelled as 'free range' to have been laid by hens with ‘meaningful and regular access’ to the outdoors and with a maximum outdoor stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare. The information standard will also require producers to prominently disclose the outdoor stocking density of hens laying free-range eggs, allowing consumers to easily compare the practices of different egg producers.


Accreditation bodies in Australia and overseas specify maximum densities from 750 to 2,500 birds per hectare. The EU and New Zealand legal maximum is 2,500 birds per hectare. The Australian legal maximum density is much higher than in the rest of the world.


Peer-reviewed scientific research is needed to understand the bird welfare implications of increasing stocking density and, indeed, what an appropriate maximum stocking density might be.


‘Free range’ means nothing if hens are not going outside – hens must be provided with unimpeded access to an attractive range area with plenty of overhead cover and vertical structures to provide shade and protection from aerial predators. The quality of the outdoor area affects access – providing areas of palatable vegetation, trees, shrubs, fallen tree trunks, etc. and ensuring the area is not muddy or full of puddles will increase interest and encourage use of the outdoor area. Regularly rotating the outdoor area will help maintain its attractiveness as well as reduce parasite burden.


Range quality and access is just as important as space allowance on the range and should not be forgotten. 

This website provides general information which must not be relied upon or regarded as a substitute for specific professional advice, including veterinary advice. We make no warranties that the website is accurate or suitable for a person's unique circumstances and provide the website on the basis that all persons accessing the website responsibly assess the relevance and accuracy of its content.
Also read
document What are the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards for layer hens?
document What is the RSPCA's position on battery cages?
document What are barn-laid eggs?
document Is the term free range on a product label enough to guarantee good animal welfare? The free range egg example

Prev   Next
How much milk should dairy calves be fed?     How should farm animals be managed during drought?