Egg laying hens on two farms in the Netherlands are stretching their legs and wings in a spacious, specially designed home that caters for their natural behavioural needs. But the benefits don’t stop there. Read on to find out how this innovative concept is also helping people and the planet.
The European Union is home to more than 350 million egg laying hens, the majority kept in cramped battery cages.
After recognising that this form of industrialised farming is unsustainable, conventional battery cages were banned in the EU from 1 January 2012.
The cramped and crowded conditions of industrial farming bring severe health and welfare problems for the millions of birds that are forced to live this way.
Prioritising animal welfareThankfully, the hens at the de Venco Group farms in the Netherlands can experience kinder, higher welfare conditions since an upgrade to the company’s farming practices in 2010.
The de Venco Group successfully evolved their industrialised farming to high animal welfare and socially conscious practices after introducing an innovative farming system, designed by the Science Group of Wageningen University, called The Roundel (in Dutch: Het Rondeel).
The Roundel gives the hens space to engage in natural behaviour of foraging, socialising, perching and dust-bathing and has the capacity to house up to 30,000 hens in divided sections of a hexagonal building.
In The Roundel hens have access to an outdoor day area with artificial grass, sand and trees enabling them to express their urge to range and forage. The night quarter of the building provides shelter and perches, giving the hens a comfortable and natural space to rest and lay eggs.
A successful business modelThe Roundel has proved an economic success and dismissed the belief that higher animal welfare means a loss of profit for farmers. There are currently two farms in operation with a third farm set to open in March 2012.
A plan to export the eggs as well as The Roundel concept to Germany is also underway.
For consumers, the eggs produced on the farm only cost around 4 cents more than eggs from cage systems, and are cheaper than organic eggs.
Health and the environmentThe environmental benefits of The Roundel are significant, as the system uses low energy consumption, sustainable feed and recycled egg packaging.
Also, the design of The Roundel is such that the birds are easily shielded from the outside world, limiting the risk of spreading contagious disease.
The de Venco Group have proved that large scale egg production can provide high welfare conditions without compromising business success or being detrimental to the environment.