What Does Cage-Free Really Mean for Chickens?

Throughout the past year, media outlets have reported countless stories about food companies going “cage-free.” Companies including McDonald’s, Walmart, Denny’s and 200 others have announced policies to ditch cages for egg-laying hens in their supply chain. For all the attention these commitments garner, what’s often overlooked is what the actual change means for the animals.


To see where we’re headed in this “cage-free” future, we must first reflect on what type of life chickens raised in the egg industry have in our country. Sadly, the majority are treated in ways that would outrage the majority of Americans.

Roughly 90 percent of the 280 million chickens in the egg industry are crammed inside barren, wire cages known as battery cages. The size of each cage is about that of your home oven. Inside, six to eight chickens are forced to live their entire year-and-a-half to two-year life—prior to slaughter—with no reprieve from their immobilization. Look inside a battery cage filled with hens and you'll see all they can do is eat, drink and defecate—in essentially the same spot—day after day, month after month.

To understand the level of frustration these birds experience, imagine stepping inside an elevator so packed you can scarcely fit. The doors can hardly close with all the people piled in. After a few seconds, you notice the elevator doesn’t move. At first there’s a bit of awkwardness, then some nervousness, and after several hours, pure panic; people pushing against one another for more space, screaming, crying, bodies bumping up against each other. And that’s it—that’s the rest of your life.

The terrifying thought of a lifetime in a broken, packed elevator is sadly the real-life nightmare for the caged chickens who lay nine out of every 10 eggs in our country. But there’s hope.

With virtually all major egg buyers in the country switching to cage-free, the lives of our nation’s laying flock is set to dramatically improve. Rather than spending day and night in a tiny cage, the birds are able to live free from cages within a barn.

While many vital bird behaviors are denied in the caged setting, cage-free hens are able to perch, dust bathe and nest. They’re able to walk about, flap their wings and socialize more normally with other chickens. It’s not a utopian environment. For example, the birds typically don’t have access to the outdoors. But it’s certainly a much better life.

So what’s happening in the cage-free revolution? Chickens, by the millions, will have significantly better lives, increasing in numbers over the next nine years as our nation eventually becomes one without a single battery cage. As we continue our perpetual efforts for continually improving animals’ lives, the success we’ve had taking on one of the most inhumane factory farming practices in history is an achievement to be celebrated.

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