By Clare Druce, founder of Chickens’ Lib, from a chapter in her forthcoming book
Chickens’ Lib: The Story of a Campaign
Chickens’ Lib is the catchy name of the pressure group that caught the imagination of the UK media, some forty years ago. Initially formed to raise
awareness about the shocking battery cage system, we soon embraced other farmed animals, though poultry remained our main focus. My forthcoming book is
written for the “ordinary” reader as well as for experts. There is still a huge amount of ignorance about farmed animals, and I hope my
accounts of our close encounters with the horrors of factory farming, combined with stories of our rescued poultry, will help to educate a wider public. In
my book, I write about the cruelty, the diseases (including animal-to-human), the gross over-use of antibiotics, official cover-ups, and the completely
unsustainable nature of our present way of feeding a hungry world through the bodies of incarcerated animals.
A major theme running through the book is my belief that where farmed animal legislation exists (as in the European Union), intensive systems routinely
contravene it, a situation that must be challenged in the courts of law.
Living Behind Bars
Despite years of sustained campaigning against any form of cage by all serious animal welfare/rights organisations, the “enriched”
version of the battery cage for laying hens is not included in the European Union’s 2012 ban on the barren battery cage.
In 2012 the RSPCA launched its new campaign opposing the enriched cage. February 2012’s issue of Poultry World quotes the Society’s
senior scientific officer: “The message we want to drive home is that, despite the new welfare law, hens will still be kept in cruel cages.”
But what exactly is an enriched cage?
Basically it’s still a battery cage, the birds living behind bars on metal grid flooring, the cages stacked up in tiers, many thousands of hens to a
building. Compared to the old-style cage, there’s mandatory additional floor space per hen measuring roughly the size of a postcard, bringing the
entire minimum space per hen to 750 square centimeters (116 square inches), little more than the area of a sheet of A4 paper.
According to the EU Directive, enriched cages must include a perch, a nesting box and a claw shortening device, plus precise provisions for food and water
supplies – all necessary to a hen, but wildly inadequate as supplied in an enriched cage, especially so in the case of the nesting box. The very term
“nesting box” sounds comforting – cosy almost. But in the enriched cage context it’s simply a curtained area, behind which the hen
finds the same sloping cage floor, the metal grid now covered in matting of some kind. Not a wisp of straw, no soft material with which to arrange her
Back in April 2001, Poultry World published an article entitled Practical Experience of Furnished Cages (for “furnished” read
enriched). Accompanying it was a photo of environmental policy group ADAS’s international poultry consultant Arnold Elson, crouching in a
backbreaking stance, peering into the bottom tier of enriched cages at ADAS’s experimental farm, Gleadthorpe. As in the barren battery cage,
effective inspection of hens in the bottom cages is unlikely to happen. To make matters worse, in the enriched cage the very presence of nesting boxes
makes thorough inspections, as demanded by law, virtually impossible. Even if a poultry worker does carry out the potentially painful feat of kneeling and
crouching for substantial stretches of time to check on the birds, how is this to be achieved where nesting areas exist? How will he/she judge what the hen
(or hens) behind the plastic curtain, which the poultry worker may or may not pull aside, in order to get a proper view, is up to? Might that hen not be laying an egg but instead seeking refuge from the stress of cage life? She may be severely injured, or simply dying of Caged Layer Fatigue,
the term used for the condition of osteoporosis – loss of bone tissue – in caged hens who have given up the struggle. With built-in obscured
areas, admittedly of vital importance to the hen, the prospect of thorough daily inspections of individual birds in “enriched” cages is
virtually nil, rendering the whole system illegal per se.
As compared with the conventional cage, the "enriched" cage offers no
meaningful benefits to hens, said Compassion in World Farming. CIWF photo.
In 2012 in its Opinion on Osteoporosis and Bone Fractures in Laying Hens, Britain’s Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) stated that bone
fractures are common in hens in enriched cages, and that catching “spent” hens in these cages fractures their bones even more, as the catchers
grab and pull at their bodies to extricate them from the complicated cages.
I’ve seen the enriched cages at ADAS’s Experimental Husbandry Farm at Gleadthorpe in Nottinghamshire, legal as far as the EU Directive goes,
but grossly inadequate for hens’ needs. Designed to hold four or five hens, these looked much like the barren battery cage, while including the
minimum statutory additions of “nest” boxes, perches, etc.
Perches were 5 centimeters (two inches) or so off the floor, in effect taking up precious ground space. For hens stuck in what is in fact a battery cage,
perches do offer a vast improvement on permanently gripping a harsh sloping metal floor, and it’s been observed that in enriched cages the hens spend
much of their time perching. In view of this, I’d not be surprised to see “The adverse effects on the laying hen caused by excessive perching” as a future research project, grasped at by poultry scientists
casting around for new ideas for grant money.
Perhaps the most glaringly unattainable provision in the EU Directive is for “litter such that pecking and scratching are possible.”
Interestingly, true dustbathing, that vital activity of a hen if her feathers and skin are to be kept clean and healthy, isn’t mentioned in the
Directive, and surely that’s because all those involved in drawing up the provisions recognized the impossibility of supplying dustbathing material
within the confines of cages. At Gleadthorpe, a small square of Astra-turf (the bright green faux grass used by greengrocers) masqueraded as a way
of fulfilling the Directive’s demand for somewhere for the hens to peck and scratch in the cage. I deemed it both futile and unhygienic, since
droppings would surely get lodged in the “grass.”
"Enriched colony" cage facility, NPR, Jan.26, 2012
“Enriched Colony” Cages: A New and Chilling Version of Factory-Farming
I’ve also been able to see the colony-style enriched battery cages on a working farm in the UK – the type being installed and touted by U.S.
egg producers as “colony barns.” (Colony cages/barns in the EU can hold any number of hens as long as there’s the required 750 square
centimeters – 116 square inches – of floor space for each bird.)
Some of the enriched colony cages I saw held up to 60 hens. Gleaming metal cages stretched away into the distance, and there was that familiar unending
clamour of frustrated hens’ voices. At least the hens could make their way from one end of the cage to the other for a bit of exercise, but not with
ease on the sloping grid floor. And they’d forever be jostling for space with their fellow inmates.
In this unit, the setup boasted an ingenious idea for providing “litter for scratching and pecking,” as demanded by the Directive. Once or
twice a day a small quantity of chicken feed was automatically distributed in one corner of each cage, onto, I seem to remember, a little area of
greengrocer’s “grass.” And no doubt the hens did attempt to scratch and peck at it, simply for something to do.
Next, we climbed a metal staircase to an upper level of cages, to view a re-run of downstairs. Now I was even more aware of the magnitude of the operation.
Here were thousands more hens, trapped forever in cages, their lives devoid of true meaning.
Under the heading “Colony system gets thumbs up,” Poultry World September 2009 describes the system installed at Oaklands Farm Eggs,
where each enriched colony cage houses 80 birds. Studying the photo, it seems to me that those hens in the lowest tier of cages must live in deep gloom.
Though superior to the non-colony “enriched” cages on show at Gleadthorpe, colony-style enriched cages suggest nothing more than a new and
chilling version of factory-farming.
For further information about Oaklands Farm Eggs’ massive operation in Shropshire, visit www.oaklandsfarmeggs.co.uk where you can read how their
“girls,” responsible for producing 500 million eggs a year, “are sitting pretty” in their new cages. Oddly, it doesn’t seem
possible to view these new homes, buried as they are in the razzmatazz about “good welfare” and “superior eggs.” On December 8,
2011, a spokesman for Oaklands Farm told listeners to Radio 4’s “Farming Today” how the hens queue up in “regimental”
fashion, awaiting their turn in the nesting area, suggesting to me that the provision for laying eggs in enriched colony cages is totally inadequate to
meet hens’ needs.
The Next Generation of Hen Prison Cells
As long ago as 1982, we’d contacted Desmond Morris, famed zoologist, ethologist, and author of The Naked Ape, about the plight of the
battery hen. Without delay, he wrote a memorable article for the Sunday Telegraph’s Opinion column. Here is an extract:
“Anyone who has studied the social life of birds carefully will know that theirs is a subtle and complex world, where food and water are only a
small part of their behavioural needs. The brain of each bird is programmed with a complicated set of drives and responses which set it on a path to a
life full of special territorial, nesting, roosting, grooming, parental, aggressive and sexual activities, in addition to the simple feeding behaviour.
All these other behaviours are totally denied the battery hen.”
Any form of cage fails utterly to fulfill the needs of laying hens. It is a tragedy that the poultry industry continues to encourage fabricating the next
generation of hen prison cells.
– Clare Druce
CLARE DRUCE, my mentor, friend, and cofounder of the pressure group Chickens’ Lib, later named Farm Animal Welfare Network, began campaigning for the
abolition of cruel poultry-keeping in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. Clare’s book, Chicken and Egg: Who Pays the Price? published in
1989, was the first book to deal specifically with industrialized poultry and egg production from an animal advocacy point of view. Chickens’ Lib was
first in producing heart-aching films documenting the Hidden Suffering of chickens and turkeys on factory farms. In 2004, Clare Druce published Minny’s Dream, a magical story for young people (of all ages) about a battery-caged hen named Minny, who implores a young girl to rescue her
from her cage before she is taken to slaughter. Minny’s Dream, a priceless treasure of riveting reading, is available from United Poultry
Concerns for $10. – Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns