PRODUCTION, MODELING, AND EDUCATION Survey of egg producers on the introduction of alternative housing systems for laying hens in Flanders, Belgium
In the context of the European Union ban on battery cages by 2012, a survey was conducted among Flemish egg producers (60% response rate, 140 completed questionnaires) about the introduction and opinion of alternative housing systems. Belgium appears to be among the countries in the European Union that are slower to adopt alternative housing. Belgium’s egg industry is thus likely to undergo drastic changes to comply with the 2012 deadline. As of 2010, the battery cage was the dominant housing system (56% housing units, 67% hens), followed by floor housing (33% housing units, 15% hens) and aviary (10% housing units, 15% hens), whereas colony cages and furnished cages were extremely rare. Future- and market-oriented production was the most important reason for choosing a certain type of alternative system, although the importance of hen performance and amount of labor seemed to increase. A quarter of the producers with battery cages had detailed plans to convert to an alternative system (most planned to install aviaries, followed by colony cages, furnished cages, and floor housing) by 2012. Many older farmers indicated that they would stop farming, whereas others found it more profitable to delay the conversion as long as possible. Apart from hen welfare, producers expressed a negative opinion (relative to battery cages) about noncage systems and, to a lesser extent, furnished cages. However, users of alternative systems reported being quite satisfied, except for the amount of labor and hen health. The housing system had several effects on user satisfaction: positive effect of flock size, negative effect of experience with battery cages, and negative effect of outdoor area on hen health. Although not all opinions were supported by evidence, such surveys provide feedback about the success of alternative systems in practice. This information is valuable to further improve these systems and to producers who have yet to convert. Moreover, producer attitude may determine the extent to which legally imposed changes in husbandry environment result in the desired improvement of hen welfare in practice.
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20 October 2011
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