Healthy Birds FAQs

EFA’s Healthy Birds pillar is about animal welfare, and what it takes for egg farmers to care for a flock of laying hens.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions related to Healthy Birds.

How well do egg farmers treat their hens?

Egg farmers are dedicated to providing the highest quality of care possible for their hens.  Egg farmers spend time with their birds each and every day to ensure that the hens are happy and healthy, and closely monitor feed and water consumption.

Egg farmers work closely with poultry veterinarians, animal care experts and feed nutritionists, to improve and enhance the care they provide to their hens.

What animal care rules and/or regulations do egg farmers have to follow?

Alberta egg farmers must adhere to the national Animal Care Program, which is based on the Recommended Code of Practice, as a requirement for being licensed to produce eggs.

The Animal Care Program ensures that hens have a safe, healthy and comfortable living environment, by providing guidelines for space, water, feed, lighting, air circulation, hen handling and more.

On-farm compliance with the Animal Care Program is monitored via annual inspections by a trained team of field inspectors, and measures are taken immediately to address any departures from accepted industry practices.

Why are hens kept in cages?

Egg laying hens are housed a variety of ways in Canada and every housing system is designed to provide a clean environment, fresh food and water, and protection from predators.  Additionally, indoor housing systems provide consistent temperature, humidity and lighting.

Each hen housing system has its own unique set of benefits and challenges, and it is ultimately the farmer’s experience and expertise that enables the associated benefits to be realized, and the challenges to be overcome.

Will Alberta egg farmers continue using conventional/battery cages indefinitely?

EFA’s Board of Directors adopted a provincial hen housing policy in 2013, which states that “no new conventional or enrichable cage systems will be allowed to be installed in Alberta after December 31, 2014.”

Alberta’s egg farmers are supportive of this policy and have already embraced the shift towards alternative hen housing systems.

What is furnished/enriched housing?

Furnished – or enriched – housing provides more space (both floor space and height) than conventional housing, along with a variety of enrichments that allow the hens to express more natural behaviours.  Enrichments within furnished housing systems include nest boxes, perches, scratch pads and dust baths.

What does free-run mean?

Free-run housing allows the hens to roam freely within and enclosed barn, while also providing enrichments such as nest boxes and perches, in either a barn or aviary system.

What does free-range mean?

Free-range housing is a free-run housing system that also provides hens with access to outdoor runs, when weather permits.

What is in the feed given to hens?

Laying hens are fed a nutritious, well-balanced diet that is vital for maintaining hen health, which also contributes to the production of high quality eggs.

Egg farmers work with nutrition specialists to ensure that their hens receive a diet consisting of grains, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Egg farmers follow feed regulations set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  In Alberta, the majority of farmers use crops grown on their own farm as the main source of protein in the feed.

Are hens fed hormones and/or steroids?

Hormones and steroids are illegal in Canada, and are not used in the Canadian egg industry.

Are hens fed antibiotics?

Antibiotics are not routinely administered to laying hens because they are not required, and the Canadian egg industry has banned the use of Category-1 antibiotics.

If there is a need to treat a specific illness, antibiotics may be prescribed by a poultry veterinarian or used by a feed nutritionist.

Any use of antibiotics is done in compliance with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and eggs from those hens cannot be sold until residual antibiotics are no longer present.

Are hens fed animal by-products?

Laying hens are fed a nutritious, well-balanced diet that contains grains, proteins, vitamins and minerals – all the things hens need, to stay healthy and thrive.

The feed often contains either plant-based proteins or CFIA-certified meat meal, because hens require high quality protein.

Do farmers cut off the hen’s beak?

A natural behavior that can actually be detrimental to the health and well-being of laying hens is pecking, but beak treatment can help alleviate the impact of aggressive pecking.

Infrared beak treatments are performed on 1-day old chicks at the hatchery by trained poultry experts, and the chicks are able to eat and drink regularly within minutes.

Are there any roosters in the barn?

Although it is rare for roosters to be included in an egg farmer’s flock, it does occasionally happen.  Roosters are treated with care and euthanized humanely.

What happens to male chicks?

Male chicks are separated from female chicks by trained hatchery personnel and are euthanized quickly and humanely.

How long do laying hens live?

Starting at 19 weeks of age, hens typically lay for about one year.

At the end of the laying cycle, when their egg shells no longer meet Canada Grade-A quality assurance standards, the hens are handled with special care and euthanized humanely.

What is a pullet?

Pullet is a term for hens ranging from 1-day old chicks to 19-weeks of age, when they are ready to begin laying eggs.

The Pullet Growers of Canada oversees the national industry, which shares a common Code of Practice with the egg industry.

What is the industry’s code of practice and when was it last updated?

The Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets, Layers and Spent Fowl was developed in consultation with veterinarians, animal scientists, and representatives of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.

The 2003 Code of Practice is currently being reviewed and updated by the National Farm Animal Care Council.  The entire Canadian egg industry works together to continuously improve on-farm practices related to hen health and animal care.