In the UK there are four official classifications of egg production types: Free- Range, Organic, Cage and Barn.
EU egg legislation stipulates that for eggs to be termed ‘Free-Range’, hens must have continuous daytime access to runs which are mainly covered with vegetation and a maximum stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare. Indoors, the maximum stocking density is 9 hens per square metre. Hens are provided with nest boxes and perches providing 15 centimetres of perch per hen. Litter must be provided, accounting for one-third of the floor surface. This is used for scratching and dust bathing.
The Lion Quality Code of Practice stipulates the same additional standards for Lion Quality Free-Range hens as for Lion Quality Barn hens. It also makes provision for:
Hens producing Organic eggs are always Free- Range. In addition, hens must be fed an organically produced diet and ranged on organic land.
The hen house conditions for organic hens are set by the EU Organic Regulations and stipulate a maximum stocking density of 6 hens per square metre of useable area and a maximum flock size of 3,000 birds. Hens must be provided with nest boxes. Adequate perches, providing 18 centimetres of perch per hen, must also be provided. Litter must be provided, accounting for one-third of the ground surface – this is used for scratching and dust bathing.
Additional requirements of the Lion code:
The higher standards governing flocks producing British Lion organic eggs include the provision of outdoor shading, additional height and width of pop-holes… open for 8 hours daily to allow access to the outside… and a maximum range area stocking density of up to 2,000 birds per hectare.
Since Jan 1st 2013, all cages in the UK have been replaced by larger, ‘enriched’ Colony cages.
The new colony cages provide 750cm² per bird along with a nest box for them to lay their eggs in, perching space for the birds to sleep on and a scratching area to perform natural behaviours. Each Colony contains between 40 and 80 birds. This allows the birds more space to move around the colony.
Laying eggs in a nesting area has been shown to be one of the most important behavioural needs for laying hens …along with having perches. Food is supplied in troughs fitted to the cages and an automatic water supply is provided. The units are kept at an even temperature and are well ventilated. Lighting provides an optimum day length throughout the year.
There are many similarities between the Barn and Free Range systems but in the Barn system the hens are not given access to the outdoors. They have one nest box per five hens or communal nests. Linear feeders provide at least 10 cm of feed area per hen, or circular feeders provide at least 4 cm per hen. There is also plenty of drinking space per hen. Electric lighting is provided to give an optimum day length throughout the year.
There are additional requirements stipulated by the Lion Quality Code of Practice compared to EU legislation. This requires a maximum flock size of 32,000 birds divided into colonies of 4,000.