One of the privileges I have working for the RSPCA is getting up close with a variety of animals. Last week it was lovely to see hens on an RSPCA Approved layer hen farm – Rohde’s Free Range in South Australia’s Clare Valley.
I was greeted by the contented crooning of a flock of hens. Some of the girls crowded at the door to check out the visitor and give my camera a peck. Some were sitting on perches, some stretching their wings, some digging around in the litter in their shed and others eating, drinking or clucking to tell me they had laid an egg.
A good layer hen farm – even one that may have tens of thousands of birds – provides an environment that encourages and allows hens to do all things that come naturally.
Running a hen farm to the RSPCA’s Standards is a big job and the team at Rohde’s should be applauded for the work they do by participating in the Approved Farming Scheme. Good welfare relies on a combination of factors including good stockmanship and management, space allowance, housing, lighting and ventilation as well as litter and things to do.
Of course, not everyone gets the great privilege of visiting farms, so when standing in the grocery store, taking in the range of egg brands on the shelf it can be pretty hard to know which eggs genuinely come from hens that live this sort of life.
Until Australia has national legal definitions for the use of labelling terms, even the most knowledgeable consumer may still be wading through marketing terms on pack to find a brand, like Rohde’s, that they can be confident is giving hens an environment that meets their needs.
The Approved Farming Scheme logo aims to help simplify the weekly shopping experience. When buying RSPCA Approved eggs, you can be assured higher welfare standards are being met on farm. Remember, if RSPCA Approved eggs aren’t available, be sure to ask for them!
You might also like to follow my top shopping tips to help crack the egg carton code…
Tip 1: check that the carton says either ‘cage free’, ‘barn’ or ‘free range’ – some cartons of cage eggs are trying to trick you with the use of green or bright, sunny style images to suggest the outdoors on the carton. They may also use words like ‘natural’ and ‘grain fed’. No matter how cage egg brands try to market their product, the inability of hens to do all the things that come naturally to them mean that hens that produce these eggs suffer chronic frustration. Say ‘NO’ to cage eggs when shopping and Choose Wisely when dining out.
Tip 2: if you want to buy ‘barn laid’ – eggs from a well-managed barn laid farm are a great choice. Allowing hens to have access to the outdoors is not always possible but this doesn’t mean that hens can’t have the same comfortable life. If hens are given adequate space to move around, quality litter for foraging and dust bathing and the opportunity to lay their eggs in a nest then you can be confident that these hens have their physical and behavioural needs met.
Tip 3: if you want to buy ‘free range’ – then hens in a well-managed free range system should have access to an attractive outdoor area (range) during the day. An attractive range encourages hens to go out by being easily accessible, has grass or dirt suitable for foraging and dust bathing, and also has shade and protection.
At night, large flocks of free range hens are usually kept in sheds or barns to keep them safe from predators, while smaller flocks may be kept in smaller, possibly moveable sheds. It is important that the stocking density at night when hens are indoors is low enough that they can be comfortable and that they have the ability to perch.