The challenge of developing regulations for production animals

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					        How much space does an elephant need? The impact of confinement on animal welfare

The challenge of developing regulations for production animals that
produce the welfare outcomes we want
Dr Peter O’Hara Chairman, National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and Dr Cheryl
O’Connor, Programme Manager, Animal Welfare Group, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, PO
Box 2526, Wellington, New Zealand, cheryl.o'


In this paper, the welfare of the laying hen is used to illustrate a proposed approach to
regulation of the welfare of animals held in confinement. Most hens are housed presently
in highly confined situations that are the subject of widespread criticism by scientists and
the public and that are scheduled for replacement in many countries. The search for
facilities and management systems to replace cages has spawned a lot of research and

The challenges for regulators are

• to find a balance among the often conflicting social, ethical and production
  management considerations in a way that does not stifle innovation;
• to develop regulations that achieve welfare outcomes consistent with current scientific
  thinking, meet public expectations for the welfare of hens, are readily understood and
  accepted by those who must abide by the regulations, and are effective tools for those
  who have to enforce them.
• to write regulations that remain relevant in an environment of constant change.
• to exercise judgement on the prioritisation of normal behaviours and the welfare
  compromise of failing to provide for them; and
• to decide what are the priority behaviours that must be provided for as a minimum
  requirement and what additional provisions constitute “best practice”.

We believe the regulations should focus on defining welfare outcomes for the hen based
on known needs in a manner that requires those outcomes to be delivered, rather than
prescribing the facilities and management systems that should be provided.

In 2004, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) concluded that
the cages currently used to house most (92%) of the laying hens in New Zealand did not
meet the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 1999, primarily because they offer a
barren environment that does not allow the hens to display normal behaviours. However,
there was a dearth of information on suitable alternative systems. Some interim
adjustments of the space available to the birds were made but a decision on what are
acceptable alternative systems in the long term was deferred to 2009 when it was
expected that better information would be available to the Committee.

Barn and free-range systems are unlikely to expand sufficiently to accommodate the
entire New Zealand national flock (approximately 3 million birds). Furnished (or
enriched) cages are likely to be adopted as a major production system in the future, but

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there is still considerable experimentation underway in Europe to achieve optimum
performance, and there is no experience of their use in New Zealand. The transition of
the national flock from present cage systems to a range of systems (likely to include
varying degrees of confinement) in the future needs to be guided by regulations which act
as a reference point and are not dependent on prescribing facilities and systems that are
in a state of flux.

Here we present an outline of welfare outcomes for the laying hen referenced to the
requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 that could be the basis for a future revised
Code of Animal Welfare under that Act. The definition of the outcomes draws on
recently published international research on the needs of the laying hen.


In this paper we have taken “confinement” to mean keeping animals in an enclosure that
may in some way restrict the activities and behaviours they show in an unenclosed

In a period of about 50 years, the laying hen industry has changed from being managed as
comparatively small flocks in a free range environment to an intensive, highly confined
environment characterised by cages containing small groups of birds. This change was
largely driven by a pursuit of efficiency and improved bird health. Indeed, it does have
significant welfare benefits such as the management of disease and injury. The change has
also been accompanied by genetic selection for high productivity in this confined
environment (LayWel D 7.1).

The benefits of this confinement are now under serious challenge by both scientists and
the public as the ethical paradigm recognising hens as sentient animals has grown and
their inability to express natural behaviours in cages is seen as a serious compromise of
welfare. Cages have been banned in Switzerland and Sweden, phasing out of cages is
planned in Europe and is under consideration in other countries. However, in the future,
hens are likely to be kept in systems that impose varying degrees of confinement. The
challenge for the regulator is to find a balance among the various and often conflicting
social, ethical and production management considerations in a way that does not stifle
innovation or require frequent alteration of the regulations.

Currently in New Zealand, 2.7-2.9 million hens produce 900 million eggs per year: 92%
of eggs are produced in cages, the balance in barns or free range. Consumption is 220
eggs/person/year (Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand). Eggs are seen as an
important part of New Zealanders’ diet particularly in lower income families.

In 2004, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) concluded that
while cages meet the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 for the provision of
food and water, adequate shelter, appropriate physical handling and protection from
disease, they are a barren environment that does not allow the expression of normal
behaviours such as nesting, perching, dust bathing and foraging. As such, they do not

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meet the requirements of the Act. However, NAWAC was not confident that the other
systems available in NZ at the time (barns and free range) offered realistic alternative
management systems for the 2.7 million birds presently housed in cages. These non-cage
systems can satisfy many of a hen’s behavioural needs but have their own significant
welfare and management problems, in particular, protection from disease and injury from
feather pecking and aggressive behaviour. Very little was recorded about the performance
of the non-cage systems in New Zealand. NAWAC was aware that much research and
innovation was underway elsewhere on housing for hens as alternatives to barren cages
(e.g. European LayWel programme). NAWAC elected to defer further consideration until
2009, and instituted a strategy to ensure better information about the various housing
systems in New Zealand and elsewhere would be available by then. This decision was not
popular among opponents of cages and prompted a recommendation from a
Parliamentary Select Committee that the decision and the code be reviewed immediately.

The challenge will be to write regulations (code of welfare) which spell out the minimum
acceptable standards for managing hens in a manner that accommodates the changes that
will inevitably occur in housing and management systems. We believe that this can best
be done by defining the welfare outcomes for the hen that any system must meet.

The regulatory environment

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 is based on a duty of care philosophy which obliges the
owners and persons in charge of an animal to meet the physical, health and behavioural
needs of the animal in a manner that is in accordance with good practice and scientific
knowledge. The definitions of the physical, health and behavioural needs in the Act
paraphrase the Five Freedoms promulgated by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council.
The definitions include:

• adequate shelter;
• proper and sufficient food and water;
• the opportunity to display normal behaviour;
• appropriate physical handling which minimises the risk of unreasonable or
  unnecessary pain or distress; and
• protection from, rapid diagnosis of and treatment of injuries and disease.

The requirement to provide these needs is not absolute: the needs are subject to
consideration of the species, the circumstances and the environment of the animal. This
recognises that when animals are farmed, there will be circumstances where all “needs”
may not be provided, for example unmanaged reproduction or freedom to roam at will.
The Act provides for the development of codes of animal welfare and gives legal force to
the minimum standards that they contain. Codes flesh out the provisions of the Act by
setting minimum standards which persons in charge of animals must meet and by
providing recommendations on best practice. The codes are deemed to be regulations
and the minimum standards have a force in law to the extent that failure to observe a
minimum standard may be offered in evidence that a breach of the Act has occurred.

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Conversely, meeting a minimum standard can be used in defence against a prosecution
for an offence under the Act.

Definition of the welfare of a laying hen

One of the projects included in the LayWel collaborative research programme conducted
in Europe was an attempt to reach consensus on the definition of welfare and welfare
indicators (LayWel D 1.2). Fourteen definitions derived from the literature were
examined but no consensus was reached.

The Laywel report notes that most definitions include physical, physiological and
psychological/mental aspects although some concentrate on one aspect only. Good
health is a prerequisite to good welfare but in some definitions, the maintenance of good
health is implied rather than stated. Indicators of poor welfare are relatively easy to find
but defining “normal” in welfare terms is more difficult because, like all species, hens
cope with their environment and adapt to it in ways that can be seen to “normal” even
though they differ from what is seen in natural or quasi-natural states.

The evolution of scientific thinking about what constitutes good and bad welfare has led
to the adoption of two forms of methodological approach (e.g. Broom et al, 1995;
Appleby et al, 2002; LayWel D 7.1). The ‘welfare indicators’ approach compares
measurements of health, behavioural, physiological or morphological characteristics
between various systems of management. The ‘motivational priorities’ approach draws on
the results of preference tests, self selection tests and consumer demand tests to argue
that hens will make self-interested choices in their welfare if given the opportunity
(LayWel D 7.1).

      Table 1. Categorisation of welfare indicators according to the welfare states of the laying hen
State                Positive welfare indicators                Negative welfare indicators
Biological           Productivity                               Loss of productivity
function             Maintenance of body weight/condition       Weight/condition loss
                     Maintenance of good health                 Poor health
                                                                Poor egg shell quality
                                                                Poor bone strength
Affective state      Absence of negative indicators             Elongated claws
                     Adaptation                                 Feather pecking
                                                                Stereotypic behaviours
                                                                Poor health
                                                                Physiological evidence of stressors
Natural state        Ability to display normal behaviours       Inability to display normal behaviours
                     such as nesting, perching, foraging,       Abnormal behaviours

An adaptation of the welfare indicators approach is to categorise welfare indicators as
representing ‘biological functioning’ (primarily concerned with productive/reproductive

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performance and its effects on the hen), ‘affective state’ (primarily concerned with a hen’s
emotional state and ability to cope with or adapt to its environment) and ‘natural state’
(primarily concerned with behaviour as compared with the putative natural or native
environment). Some indicators of the three states are summarised in Table 1.

NAWAC has concluded that all three categories must be considered to adequately define
the preferred welfare state of a hen. If there are compromises or trade-offs to be made
between the physical, health and behavioural needs of hens, the Act requires them to be
made in terms of good practice, scientific knowledge and/or available technology and to
have regard for the species, environment and circumstances of the hen (in this case,
species could be interpreted as strain or type). The Act does not define “good practice”,
“scientific knowledge” and “available technology” and NAWAC has developed working
definitions to aid its own deliberations and to explain its thinking to others1.

A way forward

It is clear that:

• the cages in current use will never satisfy the Act’s requirement that birds be able to
  display normal patterns of behaviour;
• the need for hens to display at least some normal behaviours is well established
  scientific thinking and is widely accepted/demanded by the community at large;
• the need to replace cages with other systems has spawned research and innovation
  into a range of alternative systems particularly in Europe;
• each system presents welfare advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages have
  to be managed to ensure welfare is not compromised to an unacceptable extent; and
• management, husbandry practices and expertise differ between individuals, over time
  and with available technology.

These reasons suggest that from a regulatory point of view, minimum standards that
focus on the hen and its minimum required welfare outcomes offer greater utility and are
likely to be more long-lived than prescriptive facilities-based standards that become
outdated by new developments and attitudes. Outcome-based standards allow farmers
(owners) to use their own expertise, experience, available technology, and judgement to
meet the minimum standards. Such standards are likely to accept that some confinement
is acceptable, even desirable, without trying to prescribe the features of the confinement

Because confinement is likely to inhibit the expression of some of the repertoire of
normal behaviours, a judgement needs to be made as to the extent of compromise of
welfare of a hen unable to express each behaviour. Only then can some prioritisation of
the relative importance of behaviours to the hen be made.

    These definitions are outlined in guidelines, available at
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Minimum standards for the management of laying hens

The following discussion and tables are based on the physical, health and behavioural
needs of hens as defined by the Act. The minimum standards define the welfare outcome
to be achieved and the indicators are measures of the achievement of that outcome. Data
relating to facilities such as physical dimensions are not included in the minimum
standards but may be included as guidance in the code of welfare.

Food and water. The need of hens for food and water of sufficient quantity and quality is

          Table 2. Minimum standards and welfare indicators for the supply of food and water
                  Need of laying hens as defined by the Animal Welfare Act 1999:
                                Proper and sufficient food and water
Minimum standard                                       Indicators of acceptable welfare
Feed must be provided daily                            •   Daily inspections demonstrate feed availability
Method of providing feed to prevent undue              •   Absence of competition for space at feeders
competition or injury                                  •   Smaller birds can access feeders
Quantity and nutrient composition sufficient to        •   Feed consumption and feed conversion is in the
maintain good health, meet physiological demands           expected range
and avoid nutritional/metabolic disorders              •   Egg production is in the expected range
                                                       •   Egg cleanliness
                                                       •   Low prevalence of shell defects – calcium
                                                           deposits, red streaks, red spots
                                                       •   Body condition
Absence of contamination or mouldy feed                •   Any contaminated or mouldy feed removed
Continuous access to water that is palatable and       •   Absence of birds clustering at waterers
not harmful to health                                  •   Absence of wet litter
Representative sample of the flock to be weighed       •   Weights of sample of birds within Breeders
weekly                                                     Handbook limits
If average weights do not meet the breeder’s           •   Remedial action successful
guidelines, remedial action is taken

Shelter. Shelter includes the physical environment, housing, environmental control
equipment, emergency systems where a controlled environment is used, lighting, floors
and litter, roosting areas, nest boxes, ingress and egress doors and protection from the

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     Table 3. Minimum standards and welfare indicators related to the provision of adequate shelter
                   Need of laying hens as defined by the Animal Welfare Act 1999:
                                          Adequate shelter
Minimum standard                                            Indicators of acceptable welfare
Buildings and any surrounding land housing birds            •   Low escape frequency
must contain the birds, be secure against entry of          •   Absence of predation
predators and the unauthorised entry of people and          •   Controlled access to premises
minimise risks from other hazards
                                                            •   Hazards identified/risk management
                                                                programme in place
Buildings and land must be sited to facilitate drainage     •   Absence of mud
and avoid exposure of birds to muddy conditions.            •   Clean plumage
Where birds have access outdoors, protection from           •   Shelters available
inclement weather must be provided. There must be
                                                            •   Behaviour checks confirm the absence of
sufficient ingress/egress openings in buildings to
                                                                competition at popholes
prevent competition or bullying
Each house in which birds are enclosed must have            • Alarms and equipment comply with relevant
fire alarms, fire-fighting equipment and a                    standards
documented emergency plan                                   • Alarms and equipment in working order
                                                            • Emergency plan in place
Controlled environment housing must have alarms to          • Alarms and equipment comply with relevant
warn of power failure and/or temperature variance             standards
and have a back-up power supply capable of                  • Alarms in working order
maintaining environmental control. Alarm systems            • Back-up power supply in working order
must be checked on a regular schedule
                                                            • Routine checks and maintenance documented
All equipment used for keeping hens must be subject         • Routine checks and maintenance documented
to a regular maintenance schedule and any faults
promptly repaired
Floors perches and other surfaces must be designed          • Records of injuries and actions taken kept
to minimise injury and disease, in particular, foot, leg    • Litter dry, friable, minimum dust
and keel disorders or injury. In the areas in which it is
provided, litter including nest litter must remain dry
and friable but not dusty, and floor litter must cover
the whole floor surface.
Cages or comparable enclosures must allow hens to           • Behavioural observations of standing, wing-
stand erect and stretch their wings, have a floor slope       stretching show requirements met
of ≤ 8 degrees and have openings that allow the             • Measurements confirm requirements are met
birds to be inserted or removed without injury. The         • Birds clean and plumage free of excreta
birds in cages must be protected from their own
excreta or that of other birds
Environmental factors:                                      • Daily check of hen distribution in available
Controlled environment houses must be capable of              space and behaviour
being heated and cooled. Temperature and bird               • Lighting schedule confirmed
behaviour (panting or huddling) must be monitored           • Light intensity sufficient to allow inspection
                                                            • Absence of dust and ammonia smell
Ventilation must be maintained to minimise dust and
avoid ammonia levels detectable by smell.
In the absence of daylight, hens should have a
minimum 8 hours and a maximum 16 hours artificial
light daily. Lighting changes must be made gradually.
Light intensity must be sufficient to allow inspection
of the birds

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Opportunity to display normal behaviours. The management systems presently available vary
from free-range in which (theoretically) hens are able to exhibit the entire repertoire of
behaviours that their wild counterparts might exhibit in their native state to cages which
constrain the display of these behaviours almost completely. While public and scientific
opinion has turned against this negative aspect of cages, the systems that replace cages
will probably employ some degree of confinement to capture some of the beneficial
aspects of cages relating to disease control and production efficiency.

In their review of the scientific literature, Weeks and Nicol (LayWel D 4.1) concluded:

1. Hens will work to gain access to perches and when they are provided, up to 100% of
   birds will use them at night. If they are not provided, hens will roost on the highest
   available structures. Roosting may in part reflect a preference for more space.
2. Hens attach a high priority to a discrete enclosed nest site, as judged from
   observations of their nesting and pre-nesting behaviour and preferences.
3. Dust bathing is a behavioural need but may not be a priority. Because litter may be
   used for nesting and foraging, it is not clear what value hens put on dust bathing per
   se. The method of rearing may influence the way this need is satisfied as sham dust
   bathing may be a satisfactory alternative in birds reared in cages that have not
   experienced dust bathing in litter.
4. It was difficult to generalise from the results of individual experiments because of the
   interaction of the variables stocking density, group size and available space in
   experimental studies but the evidence suggests that:

   • hens have a requirement for a reasonable amount of personal space,
   • the smaller the total space available to a group of birds the larger is the space
     needed by individuals in the group to avoid crowding and permit behavioural
     needs to be met, and
   • social strategies differ according to group size – in larger groups encounters are
     often between strangers.

Furnished cage size and design appear to significantly influence the extent to which the
hens exhibited behaviours such as foraging, dust bathing and perching (LayWel D 4.6).
The challenge for regulators is to decide what are the priority behaviours that must be
provided for as a minimum requirement and what additional provisions constitute “best
practice”. Table 4 sets out a proposed standard.

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  Table 4. Minimum standard for the behaviours that a laying hen must be able to exhibit and aberrant
                                 behaviours that must be managed
                 Need of laying hens as defined by the Animal Welfare Act 1999:
                       Opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
Minimum standard                                     Indicators of acceptable welfare
Hens must be able to stand erect in all parts of • Hen posture
the floor space available to the birds and must • Frequency of wing-stretching, flapping
have sufficient space per bird that individuals in a
group can stretch their wings
Hens must have access to appropriate, discrete • Majority of eggs laid in nests
nest boxes in sufficient numbers to allow all hens
to lay in a nest
There must be sufficient perching space to allow • Majority of birds perching at night
all birds in the group to perch and perch design • Low prevalence of foot and keel injury
such as to minimise the risk of injury
A litter area must be provided to allow foraging • Litter quality (see Table 3)
and dust bathing and an abrasive area for claw • Majority of birds use the litter

Aberrant behaviours such as feather pecking, aggression, cannibalism and stereotypic or
purposeless behaviours are important indicators of design and management problems
that require management action in any system (see Table 6).

Physical handling. The important risk periods for injury and distress through physical
handling are when birds are moved from the rearing to the laying areas and during
depopulation at the end of lay. The latter probably involves the greater risk of bone
fractures as the result of osteoporosis. This is particularly so in cage systems where
restricted mobility contributes to the osteoporosis associated with egg laying. The degree
of inherent fearfulness of humans may influence the ease with which the birds are caught.

Table 5. Minimum standard for physical handling of laying hens and indicators of acceptable performance
                  Need of laying hens as defined by the Animal Welfare Act 1999:
  Physical handling in a manner which minimises the likelihood of unreasonable or unnecessary pain or
Minimum standard                               Indicators of acceptable welfare
Laying hens should be managed in a manner that • Behaviour in the presence of humans
minimises their fear of humans
Facilities must be designed to facilitate the • Door openings of appropriate size
capture of the birds and minimise the risk of • Facilities for herding birds without unnecessary
injury during handling                            distress
Birds must be handled by persons trained and • Training programme
competent to do so

Three factors require attention if injury and distress are to be minimised:

1. management of the birds during the laying period to minimise the fear of humans;
2. design of the facilities from which the birds are caught and the cages into which they
   are placed to facilitate the capture and transfer processes; and
3. use of personnel competent in the capture and handling of the birds.
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Injury and disease. There is a close reciprocal relationship between health and welfare. The
management of injury and disease is an integral part of ensuring the welfare of laying
hens. A particularly important component is the management of aberrant behaviours
such as feather pecking, aggression and cannibalism which can be significant problems in
non-cage systems and in the larger furnished cages (>10-15 birds) (LayWel D 7.1).

One of the benefits of cage systems is the greater ease in managing faeces-borne
infections without having to resort to the use of pharmaceuticals (e.g. LayWel D 7.1) and
for this reason, there is a good case to retain them even though the confinement may
restrict the expression of some behaviours.

From a regulatory point of view, all housing systems have advantages and disadvantages.
The disadvantages present problems that have to be managed if acceptable health and
welfare standards are to be achieved.

   Table 6. Minimum standards for the management of injury and disease and indicators of acceptable
                                         welfare outcomes
                 Need of laying hens as defined by the Animal Welfare Act 1999
                Protection from and rapid diagnosis of any significant injury or disease
Minimum standard                                    Indicators of acceptable welfare
Flocks must be inspected daily, dead birds • Records of deaths and their causes maintained
removed, and deaths (including culls) classified
and recorded
Endemic diseases are managed in accordance with • Documented disease control programme
a documented programme of prevention and
Professional help must be sought if illness affects • Diagnosis made and treatment implemented
more than 2% of the flock or if weekly mortalities
exceed 0.5%
Sick or injured birds that can not compete for
food, water or other resources must be culled and
destroyed humanely
A management plan must be in place to deal with • Location and severity of damage to plumage and
damaging feather pecking, aggression or                skin of affected birds classified
cannibalism. The plan may include beak trimming • Management plan implemented
of chickens that become replacement stock

Selection to manage welfare problems

There is evidence that selection for high productivity in confined environments has
contributed to the prevalence of feather pecking and aggressive behaviours and to the
risk of bone fractures during lay and at depopulation (LayWel D 7.1). Genotype
differences in feather pecking are observed. Selection for bone strength appears to be
highly heritable resulting in improvement within one to two generations without
significant loss of productivity.

                               2007 RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar
        How much space does an elephant need? The impact of confinement on animal welfare


We consider regulations employing outcome-based statements of expected laying hen
welfare can be applied to any housing system and offer readily observable and measurable
standards that those managing the system can use to apply to their own circumstances
and that those who police the regulations can use to benchmark their investigation of
alleged breaches. Such regulations are likely to be more readily understood by the public
as they relate more directly to the public’s expectations than facilities-based regulations.


The proposals presented in this paper should be regarded as “work in progress” as the
authors have yet to obtain the level of peer review necessary to ensure the conclusions
are robust, feasible and able to be implemented. The opinions presented in this paper are
those of the authors and do not represent the views of NAWAC, the Ministry of
Agriculture and Forestry or the Minister of Agriculture.


The authors are grateful to Dr Kate Littin and Dr Phil Cowan for their very helpful
comments on this paper.


Appleby, M.C., Walker, A.W., Nicol, C.J., Lindberg, A.C., Freire, R. & Elson, H.A. (2002). The
  development of furnished cages for laying hens. Brit. Poultry Science 43: 489-500.
Broom, D.M., Mendl, M.T. & Zanella, A.J. (1995). A comparison of the welfare of sows in different
   housing conditions. Anim. Sci. 61: 369-381.
Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand Inc. Layer Hen Farming – Industry Background.
Farm Animal Welfare Council. Five Freedoms.
LayWel. (2006). Welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens.
 - Deliverable 1.2 Report with consensual version of welfare definition and welfare indicators.
 - Deliverable 4.1 Literature review of laying hen preferences
 - Deliverable 4.6 Behavioural function of production systems for laying hens.
 - Deliverable 7.1 Overall strengths and weaknesses of each defined housing system for laying hens,
   and detailing the overall welfare impact of each housing system.

                               2007 RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar

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