Animal welfare campaigners are rushing to find new homes for battery hens before an EU ban on "barren" battery cages comes into force, as Asha Tanna reports.
The new EU legislation which comes into force on 1 January 2012, will ban the use of the very small cages known as "barren battery cages".
As the ban looms, farmers all over the country have been emptying these soon-to-be-illegal cages of hens, making this a bumper month for charities that aim to find new homes for battery hens.
Michelle Boulton, the cornish co-ordinator for the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, is currently looking after 1,200 battery hens that she agreed to take from a farmer on 26 December to save them from the slaughterhouse. Michelle and her team have already re-homed some 1,500 hens in December alone. She is now seeking new homes for the latest arrivals which are currently costing £60 in feed per day.
Campaigners have long fought for the abolition of the "barren" cage, which they say is cruel, and causes the birds physical and psychological stress.
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Such cages typically holds 5-6 hens, each with less room than an A4 piece of paper, restricting every aspect of a hen's natural behviour such as stretching its wings, foraging for food or taking dust baths.
The new rules will allow a larger indoor cage, known as an "enriched" cage. This is designed to hold up to 90 birds and allows more freedom and the possibility of roosting, scratching and stretching. The enriched cage also has a small nesting area at one end. Eggs from such cages will be marked as being "colony eggs".
However enriched cages have been criticised by leading animal charity the RSPCA, which says that all cages are wrong, and urges its supporters only to buy eggs that have the Freedom Food label.
The RSPCA says that in a recent poll in England and Wales, 61 per cent of people surveyed agreed that enriched cages should also be banned and no hen should be kept in a cage. The charity estimates some 15 million hens will remain in UK cages next year.