Nov. 15, 2016

Enriched Colony, Free Run and more: Allow us to eggsplain how hens are housed

Animal Welfare

Picking out eggs at the grocery store isn’t as simple as it used to be. Today, consumers have more choices than ever before. While that’s a good thing, many different labels can also be a bit confusing.

Some eggs are packaged and labeled according to the type of housing where the hens that laid those eggs are raised. At Burnbrae Farms, our chickens live in a variety of hen housing environments. Regardless of housing type, we work diligently to provide high-quality care for the hens and safe, nutritious eggs for consumers.

Speaking of hen houses, we sometimes get questions about why our hens are housed inside, so see this blog post by Mike the Chicken Vet if you’re wondering about indoors versus outdoors, or pasture-raised. Spoiler alert: Think about the extremes of Canadian weather, predators, less control of hens’ diets, and disease prevention.

Our Commitment to Research

At Burnbrae, we keep updated on the latest research about hen housing, hen care, and farm management, and we incorporate new innovations and practices when we feel they improve hen well-being and egg production. Our commitment to research is so strong that we sponsor research at the University of Guelph and other institutions.

Enriched Colony Houses

In Enriched Colony houses, hens are raised in smaller groups, which reduces the hens’ natural aggressions that can cause pecking and injury to other hens. That natural aggression is one reason egg farmers started housing hens in cages over 50 years ago (in addition to disease control and predation). Enriched Colony differs from conventional cages because hens have more space, perches and nesting areas are provided. Hens have more freedom of movement, they can exhibit more natural behaviors, and nesting areas provide a private area to lay their eggs.

Free Run Aviary Houses

Burnbrae also produces eggs in Free Run aviary houses, also called cage-free. In this open concept barn, birds can take short flights, dust bathe and perch. Free Run certainly provides hens the most opportunity to perform natural behaviours. With that freedom, research shows cage-free birds are more likely to injure themselves or each other (think of “pecking order”). Free Run (cage-free) eggs are the most expensive to produce due to greater barn space needs, higher management costs, and higher feed consumption. With this, Free Run (cage-free) has the highest carbon footprint when compared to Enriched Colony and conventional cages.

Conventional Cage Houses

Some of our farms have conventional cage houses, which became the industry standard several decades ago for many reasons. In conventional cages, the hens’ natural aggression is reduced with fewer birds in a shared space and hens receive equal access to feed and water. Also, eggs are efficiently separated from the hens’ manure immediately after being laid. Conventional cages, while providing for the hens’ well-being, are to be phased out by the industry over the next 20 years. Enriched Colony houses provide all of these benefits while increasing the hens’ space and ability to use perches and nesting areas.

Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply

Much of the information provided here about the tradeoffs and benefits of different houses was presented by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES), a U.S. study sponsored in part by Burnbrae Farms. CSES looked at three housing environments – enriched colony, conventional cage, and cage-free aviary/free run – and their impacts in five areas – food safety, environmental impact, hen health and well-being, worker health/safety and food affordability. The CSES research shows there are pros and cons associated with each housing type. For additional information about the tradeoffs you can learn more here .

Consumer Choice is Important

Consumers today have a variety of concerns. Some are most concerned about price, others feel it is most important the birds can exhibit natural behaviours, and still others are most concerned about the environmental impact. Consumer choice is important, and that’s why Burnbrae and many other Canadian egg farmers produce eggs using a variety of hen housing types. Regardless of how the hens are housed, at Burnbrae Farms we are committed to meeting the highest standards for food safety and animal care on all our farms.