SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Chickens (Layer Hens)

SPCA supports housing systems that provide chickens with choices to meet their physical, health and behavioural needs.

SPCA advocates that all layer hens must be kept in enriched, well-maintained free range systems. All hens should have unrestricted access to an outdoor area for at least 8 hours per day (unless acting under written veterinary guidance) with appropriate, well-maintained ground and vegetative cover, and suitable artificial and/or natural shelters that protects them from the elements and overhead predators.

For all housing, environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, ammonia and dust levels must be controlled, and good litter quality and proper ventilation must be maintained to ensure the health and comfort of the chickens at all times. The farm environment must include effective and suitable enrichment material that allow for a range of species-specific behaviours such as nesting, scratching, foraging, pecking, dust-bathing, and perching. Chickens must be provided with enough space to move freely, turn around completely and perform natural behaviours such as preening, wing flapping, and stretching. Chickens should never be kept in continuous or near continuous light or dark.

SPCA opposes the farming of layer hens within conventional battery cages and enriched or colony cages.

SPCA advocates that all laying hens should be kept in appropriate cage-free systems and that the banning of conventional cages but permitting colony cages does not go far enough in ensuring the animal’s physical, health, and behavioural needs are met.

SPCA is concerned about the production of unwanted offspring.

SPCA supports the use of technologies that allow for early sexing of chicken embryos that allow for destruction of male chicks before hatching to minimise negative welfare impacts. Whilst the technology is currently unavailable, SPCA advocates for the egg industry to invest in the development of alternative strategies to reduce or eliminate the killing of male chicks.

From a humane viewpoint, instantaneous maceration, as opposed to gassing, is considered to be the most humane method of destruction for male layer chicks as it produces instantaneous unconsciousness, and consequently a pain-free and rapid death. SPCA opposes the use of prolonged exposure to noxious gases for the destruction of male layer chicks.

SPCA advocates for an end to the beak trimming and tipping of poultry.

Current intensive poultry systems in New Zealand necessitate the need for beak tipping. SPCA acknowledges that an end to the beak tipping and trimming of poultry must be brought about alongside efforts to improve flock management to ensure that the welfare of the birds is not compromised. Our organisation advocates that the Government and the poultry industry focus on poultry management improvement, without resorting to beak trimming, to end animal welfare problems that can occur from injurious pecking. This can be achieved by making conscious efforts to maintain the birds’ physical, health, and behavioural needs by taking positive action such as improving stocking densities, diet, pullet rearing methods, breed selection, light intensity and range enrichment. Where beak tipping/trimming is the only option, refinement of the technique must be used, for example using the lowest level appropriate for infrared beak trimming.

SPCA opposes the handling and catching of chickens that causes harm or distress.

Chickens must be handled humanely at all times. Prior to depopulation, hens should be caught efficiently and in blue light (or other proven suitable dark lighting conditions) in order to cause minimum stress. Our organisation acknowledges that inverting birds and carrying them by both legs is the industry’s common method for handling chickens, however SPCA advocates for the development and widespread application of more humane methods of handling chickens, both layers and meat chickens, across the industry.

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