Out and about
The key difference with free-range egg farming is the hens’ access to the outdoors.
The shelter provided may be fixed or portable, such as a shed, aviary, perchery or ark. In larger farms, flocks are housed in sheds fitted, which include nest boxes and perches, and birds are able to access the outdoors through pop-holes in the shed walls.
Commercial free-range farms can house just a few hundred birds to many thousands.
At a glance:
- Outdoor stocking density (maximum)
- NZ Code of Welfare: 2,500 hens/ha
- EU standard: 2,500 hens/ha
- NZ SPCA: 2,000 hens/ha
- Flock sizes
- NZ Code of Welfare: Not specified, dependent on individual farm land size
- EU standard: Not specified, dependent on individual farm land size
- NZSPCA: 5,000 hens/enclosure
- Indoor stocking density
- NZ Code of Welfare: 9 hens/m2
- EU standard: 9 hens/m2
- NZSPCA: 7 hens/m2
- NZ Code of Welfare: Openings must be at least 35 cm high and 40cm wide and evenly distributed along the building to allow hens free access without risk of smothering or injury.
- EU standard: 2m of pop-hole per 1,000 hens
- NZ SPCA: 1 pop-hole (at least 45cm high by 1m wide) per 600 hens
Because the hens range outdoors and can therefore be more vulnerable to disease, predators, parasites and weather, close monitoring and other preventative measures are very important in managing the health and welfare of free-range flocks.
Free-range birds makes up approximately 34% of the national layer flock (December 2021). Consumption of free-range eggs has increased over recent years at a rate of approximately 1% per year.