Barn, colony and free range methods of egg farming all meet the legislated quality and welfare standards.
The Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2012 sets out the standards of care and management for layer hens in New Zealand. It has been specifically reviewed and recommended by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), a group of welfare experts who provide independent advice to the Ministry for Primary Industries, which is ratified by the Minister for Primary Industries. The new Code is specific in its requirements of farmers and includes new detailed sections on colony farming, range management for free-range farming, natural animal behaviour, and the handling, catching and transport of layer hens and chicks.
Importantly, the Code also identifies good stockmanship as the key to good welfare, a position the egg industry fully endorses and promotes through farmer education and support activity.
As part of the review and development process for the new Code, NAWAC scientifically evaluated colonies as providing equivalent welfare to barn and free-range systems. The report from Dr John Hellstrom, chair of National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) notes “all production systems (with exception of cages) meet the specifications of the code of welfare. Each system has particular advantages and disadvantages and stockmanship is critical in determining the welfare of the birds in any layer hen housing system. No system (with exception of cages) is considered better or worse for hen welfare overall than any other system.”
Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2012Download the Animal Welfare Code of Welfare 2012
NAWAC Welfare Code Report: NAWAC’s reasons for commendations in the new Code, including colonies.Download NAWAC Report
New Zealand Welfare Science
As part of an extensive review of Colonies previous to their adoption in the new Code of Welfare, a New Zealand-based study by the Egg Producers Federation (EPF), in conjunction with leading animal welfare experts from Bristol University and the Ministry for Primary Industries (previously known as MAF) evaluated the welfare and health implications of Colonies with positive results. The research showed:
- Colony furnishings, such as the scratch pads, nests and perches, are well-used by hens
- There is little difference in the physical health of colony and free-range hens, with the exception of non-beak trimmed hens in either group, which were more likely to have lower feathering scores, and free-range hens which were more likely to show signs of past bone fractures
- Colony hens have lower mortality rates than cage, barn or free-range hens
- Beak-trimmed colony hens have comparably low levels of Faucal Corticosterone (a stress indicator) as free-range hens.
Findings summary – MAF Sustainable Farming Fund Colony trial. Project summary – MAF Sustainable Farming Fund Colony trial. Further background on the welfare science and research that has led to the development and transition to colonies is available here.
The New Zealand Egg Industry is pleased that colonies have been identified in the new Code of Welfare as a welfare-friendly and sustainable solution, however the time frame for transitioning from cages to colonies will be extremely challenging. While conventional cages will not be able to be used from the end of 2022, the phased approach means a four to six year window to invest in new facilities, which will be challenging for many farmers to achieve.
The alternative of converting to barn or free-range operations are more costly, with higher capital costs and operational costs and the need to move or entirely redevelop existing farming facilities. The day-to day operations of barn and free-range production systems are also more labour-intensive and therefore more expensive. With the majority of consumers juggling the rising costs of living, they also want a more affordable egg, so they can continue to enjoy an affordable, tasty, natural high quality protein that eggs are so famous for.