Background 6 commentsupdate:Mar 9, 2016

"Comfort plus" for chickens

In the past week, I visited the VIV China animal tradeshow in the Chinese capital Beijing. As usual, shows like these are very good opportunities to meet with professionals from the industry, share knowledge and information and get an idea about the current level of technology in such a country. Highly interesting again. And don’t underestimate the level of technology which is being used in China.

Apart from attending the tradeshow, I also had the chance to visit a very well managed and professional layer operation nearby Beijing (more about that will appear as a report in an upcoming edition of World Poultry). Here I noticed the state of professionalism and the hygiene standards the management is taking, to keep this operation free from disease and maintain a highly productive layer flock of course.  Regrettably, (but logical) I couldn't go inside the houses to see the birds. But I was told that these are kept in Chinese make 8-tier traditional cage systems.

At VIV, I noticed the wide range of local suppliers of housing systems that were on display. And the traditional models and cage sizes that are available. That made me think again about the cage ban for layers in the EU which went in operation in January 2012 and which most likely, will also find acceptance in the USA sooner or later.  The state of California is taking the lead in this respect.

In the plane on my way back from Beijing to Amsterdam, I was thinking about what I had seen and noticed on the layer housing side at VIV.  And I was trying to imagine how a chicken must feel inside a traditional cage, together with three or four more birds. With some fantasy a bit similar to passengers in an airplane.

Almost being fixed in a narrow seat for about 10 hours is not really a pleasure.  But the outlook is that this situation is just very temporary and will come to an end soon... And choosing a "comfort plus" seat for a bit more legroom and convenience at additional expense, is even an option. A chicken doesn't have the understanding of such an outlook. And in many cases the "comfort plus" option for cages is not available either. But a chicken will for sure feel comfortable under good welfare conditions. And this will lead to well performing birds. That has been proven through extensive research, which has been the basis of the current legislation in Europe. Strongly endorsed by public opinion of course, that must also be said.

So there is still a long way to go in this respect in quite a few regions in the world.  But who knows will "comfort plus" one day also be available for chickens in China?


  • MTP Petrik

    It is an unfortunate mistake to compare the perceptions of chickens to that of people. You are not sitting in the plane, petrified that a bear is waiting to eat you if you set foot outside. You don't feel the urge to dominate everyone around you, and you have no idea how a chicken reasons about her situation. Without a doubt, work needs to be done to improve laying hen welfare and housing, but trying to design houses for little people is a mistake. We are learning about chickens needs and wants, and progress must provide for THOSE needs, not ours.

  • ENG Gingerich

    I most heartedly agree with MTP Petrik. In addition, where is there evidence of better performance comparing present day stacked deck, manure belt systems at the same cage density???? Cage-free operations are struggling with a lot of performance issues such as cannibalism, piling, enteric problems, etc. How can a chicken perceive stress if it has no knowledge of an alternative? We perceive it because we have knowledge of alternatives. I was not stressed by not having a cell phone until I found out one was available.

  • gubbi lokanath

    In the light of 2 comments received already, I am inclined to suggest that we will have to get back to the old practices till recently followed, since, innumerable studies for maximised performance under a comfort zone suitable to the concerned geographic areas, have been made.
    Hormonal studies in control and stressful environments for optimised performance in layers may be an alternative proposal of choice.

  • Tekebash Gebrekidan

    I thoroughly aggree with the rules.

    In addition, I am a starter of hen's farming specifically with layers. At this moment I have received 800 chickens in a temporary shed.

    I therefore need your advice and support on how to establish, develop and be successful in layers farming in terms of: supportive advise/idea; material support; monetary support and wrtitten materials supply-related to hen's farming or poultry.

    I am looking forward much advise and support from you.

    With best regards,


  • Jonathan Herron

    Contrary to what this article states, I can say that 'comfort plus' for poultry is not always good news for producers. We currently have a fully-enriched system and one enrichable. The numbers speak for themselves as the enriched system shows higher chex, higher mortality, higher feed consumption, and fewer eggs that would translate into revenue for the producer. I do agree that we as an industry need to find alternatives to traditional battery cages, but let this solution or alternative ensure a sustainable business model for any producer and also provide a safe, economical product that doesn't make consumers feel shame for consuming.

  • karen fletcher

    I say YEAH! California! There are quite a few practices that are inhumane to animals that have been built on GREED and 'Because They Can'. These producers can claim loss of revenue all they want if laws are changed, but bottom line is they built their profit at the expense of poor stupid birds that have always needed our protection because they are defenseless against greed driven producers.

    It is cruel to prevent them from performing their instinctual behavior of scratch, scratch, peck. That's all they want to do to be happy. How can someone take advantage of such simplicity ? Happens all the time.

    The future respected and most profitable poultry companies in the future will be those producers who use advertisement to their advantage for being newly humane prior to the law changing.

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