Why free-range chooks may not be happier than caged birds

The belief free range eggs are the more ethical option to caged eggs is being disputed by a leading vet, who claims the chooks actually prefer being in enclosed spaces.

Victoria’s retiring chief vet has told the Sydney Morning Herald hens are more comfortable in confined, enclosed spaces.

Dr Charles Milne said humans have only assumed the birds prefer wide open spaces, because of the way we prefer to live.

The belief that free-range chickens are happier than caged chooks is being disputed by a leading vet. Source: Getty

The vet, who retired as the state’s chief vet on Friday, said there was much research to suggest chickens do not like being in an open paddock, and actually are more comfortable inside.

"Chickens are related to forest-dwelling birds. They don't like open spaces," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Free-range can deliver huge welfare problems.

"Instinctively as people, we anthropomorphise animals and think they must prefer free-range because we would."

Hens in small cages is a detriment to their welfare: RSPCA

This idea is in stark contrast to the RSPCA’s ongoing campaign against battery hens.

“Hens are smart, inquisitive and social animals who don’t deserve to live in a battery cage,” the welfare organisation said in an online statement.

The debate continues between the ethical benefit of free-range eggs compared with caged eggs. Source: AAP/Alan Porritt

“A scientific report prepared by the RSPCA examined the welfare of hens in different housing systems and concluded that the problems affecting hens in cage systems are caused by the cages themselves,” it said.

The RSPCA’s August 2016 report The Welfare of Layer Hens in Cage and Cage-Free Housing Systems claims keeping the animals in small cages is a detriment to their welfare and produced a poor quality of life.

“The main disadvantage of battery cages is extreme behavioural restriction and the inability for hens to perform normal behaviours including foraging, exploring, nesting, perching, and dustbathing,” the report stated.

“The inability of birds to move properly or walk leads to non-transmissible diseases including very poor musculoskeletal health, disuse osteoporosis, and a noninfectious disease called fatty liver.”

The report also said free-range hens were not able to escape other aggressive hens, which was another reason for its campaign to end battery cages.

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