Beyond Cage-Free: Animal Welfare for Laying Hens
We worked with farmers and animal welfare experts for many years to develop standards for the health and wellbeing of laying hens. All eggs in our dairy cartons are tagged with one of these four logos which indicate how the chickens live.
In 2004 we began our “cage-free only” standard for eggs. Since then, we’ve been encouraged by commitments from other companies to go cage-free, though most are yet to be implemented. While moving hens from cages to giving them the ability to walk around on the barn floor is progress, we believe it is important to go beyond basic cage-free, and further improve the welfare of laying hens.
In 2016, we completed standards for four unique production systems, all of which go beyond cage-free systems. The four systems are not tiers. Farmers choose which type of production system to use based on climate and their farm’s unique environment.
Our Basic Standards For All Eggs in Our Dairy Case
- Hens have room to roam and scratch about
- No antibiotics given to hens
- No land-animal by-products in hen feed
- Nests and perches for hens to roost at night
- Hens provided with foraging material
The Four Production Systems
For our Cage-Free Plus label, we require that hens have space to move about the house freely, are provided with perches for roosting at night (their preferred sleeping method), have places to shelter from aggressive hens and bedding material on the floor to support natural hen behavior, such as dust bathing and foraging. They might live entirely in housing or have access to an outdoor area. Beak trimming (infrared method preferred) must preserve functional, natural use of their beaks.
All Cage-Free Plus standards must be met for our Outdoor Access label. In addition, for this label we require an area outside the barn that is at least as big as the space inside, and there must be adequate openings in the barn for the hens to easily go outdoors. Water must be provided outdoors. Shade and cover has to accommodate at least 50% of the birds outdoors and be visible from the doors of the house so the hens see that they can get to sheltered areas while foraging.
Our Pasture Raised label is for systems that have access to pasture all day, every day. Shade and cover has to accommodate at least 75% of the birds outdoors and be visible from the doors of the house. We require vegetative cover of at least 50% at all times in the pasture so the hens can forage where they are most comfortable, among bushes, trees and tall grass. Beak trimming (infrared method preferred) must preserve functional, natural use of their beaks.
For our Outdoor Living label, hens live outdoors with mobile housing for laying eggs, roosting at night and sheltering during storms. The house is moved as needed to ensure continuous access to at least 75% vegetative cover, and to allow the previous area’s vegetation to recover. Cover and shade must accommodate 100% of the birds. Beak trimming is prohibited.