By January 1, 2015, the implementation date for California’s Proposition 2, millions of hens in California and in other states will be housed at 116 square inches in enrichable cages to supply shell eggs for California. If California’s efforts to prevent shell eggs that are not Proposition 2 compliant from entering commerce in the state are successful, then a separate market will exist for Proposition 2-compliant eggs and this market will reward producers for accepting the higher per-egg production costs of giving their hens more room. This scenario would provide a unique opportunity for egg producers to experiment with removing cage dividers and adding enrichments so they can determine the value for themselves of the enrichments on their own farms.
U.S. egg producers should take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the relative impact or value of nests, scratch pads and perches for themselves in the most important real-world setting possible: their own layer houses. Producers could decide to add perches, nests or scratch pads, either all three or in any combination, to some of their enclosures with hens kept at 116 square inches and compare performance and bird behavior with birds housed in enrichable cages at 116 square inches with the dividers left in or removed.
The agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers, which led to the Egg Bill, called for the U.S. egg industry to transition out of conventional cages to fully enriched cages at lower densities. The Egg Bill is off the table for now, but the writing is on the wall for conventional cages. U.S. egg producers now have a golden opportunity to gain data and insight into the value of enrichments to hen performance at the type of cage densities that were in the Egg bill and have been adopted in the EU. The cost of the enrichments shouldn’t dissuade egg producers from ceasing this opportunity to gain experience and capture data showing the value, if any, of enrichments and use this data to help shape the future of layer housing in the U.S.