The last alternative I will present and discuss is the free range housing system. Again, this is separate and distinct from the free run housing system. The definition that distinguishes free range from free run is that free range “provides birds with access to the outdoors when the climate permits, consequently, exposing these birds to sunlight” (National Farm Animal Care Council, 2003). In essence, the free range housing system is a free run housing system that also provides the extra outdoor access. Thus, within the indoor portions, the housing specifications are exactly the same, providing the hens with the same benefits.
Chandler, A. (Photographer). (2012, May 9). My backyard chickens [digital photo]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/bVgiGf
However, one of the biggest acknowledgments that must be made is that free range systems only have to provide birds with access to the outdoors. Literature shows that for the most part, these systems are actually not extremely different from free run systems, save for some version of access to the outdoors – which does not necessarily promise grass or soil to forage at.
Some other disadvantages to this husbandry method include outside diseases that cannot be controlled or prevented (Savage, 2008).
The next alternative to conventional battery cages is the free run housing system. This system is separate and distinctive from the free range housing system. In a free run system, sometimes known as an “aviary”, hens are housed together in a large bun without cages. This husbandry method is similar to how broiler chickens are housed.
Source: Egg Farmers of Alberta
Free run systems commonly have the following provisions:
- Automated communal feeding systems
- Litter flooring
- Dust-bathing areas
- Private nesting areas
While the added welfare benefits of increased movement/decreased restriction with the removal of the cage, there are also downsides to this housing method. For example, perhaps the most prominent disadvantage is the significantly increased ammonia and dust levels (Street, 2012).
One practical alternative to battery cages is enriched cages. An enriched cage, sometimes called “furnished” or “modified” cage, is a wire cage with some specific design improvements to overcome some of the welfare concerns identified from the conventional battery cage. The practicality of the enriched cage is that it retains the same or similar husbandry and economic advantages of the conventional battery cage.
Source: United Poultry Concerns
The estimated additional cost is an 8% difference in production costs (Elson and Tauson, 2011). With this extra marginal cost, hens housed in enriched cages are provided with:
- Dust-bathing area
- Private nesting area
- Scratch pads
These items allow the hens to perform the natural behaviours which they are highly motivated to exhibit.
However, there are still criticisms to this improvement from battery cage housing. Some individuals believe that enriched cages still do not provide an adequate level of welfare.