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Consumer awareness of and demand for more humanely farmed food is growing and consumers need to be able to make an informed choice about the products they purchase. However, information on the conditions under which animals are farmed is often either lacking or provided through ambiguous labelling. The use of the term ‘free range’ is one such example.
Simply providing access to the outdoors is not a guarantee of good welfare. When looking at the term ‘free range’ in the context of egg production, it is not a simple matter of defining the maximum number of birds on the range area (hens per hectare). For a free-range system to be able to provide for the needs of the bird, there are multiple factors that all need to be considered. They include:
However, birds spend most of their time inside the shed regardless of access to a range area. Conditions within the shed are just as, if not more, important in terms of hen welfare. This includes:
The RSPCA has developed standards for egg producers that ensure a high level of welfare for layer hens. Egg cartons containing RSPCA-Approved eggs are labelled with the RSPCA Approved Farming logo so that consumers can be assured that the hens are kept according to the RSPCA’s high animal welfare standards. The RSPCA Approves both barn and free-range housing systems. These types of systems, unlike battery cages, give hens the opportunity to express their full range of behaviours. Farms which are RSPCA Approved must provide all hens with:
Some of the other requirements include:
To learn more about the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme or to download the standards visit our website.