As at December 2021, 20% of the national layer flock is housed in conventional cages. However, these are due to be phased out of use by the end of 2022. Under the new Code of Welfare for Layer Hens, farmers cannot install new conventional cages and must begin decommissioning existing c0nventional cages (depending on their age) from 2018.
Keeping hens in cages does offer many benefits, allowing large-scale and efficient egg farming while achieving far fewer animal health problems when compared to other farming types. This is largely due to the high animal hygiene standards that can be achieved through mechanised feed delivery and removal of faecal matter. Mechanised egg collection and efficient use of land also means that conventional cage farming is less costly, allowing eggs to be supplied to consumers at a lower price, an important issue to consumers.
However, the EPF has long recognised the limits placed on the natural behaviour of birds housed in these particular cages and for some years has researched and considered alternatives, leading to colonies. Colonies retain the advantages of cage farming, including helping maintain the affordability of eggs, while creating the opportunity for hens to move around and express their natural behaviours.