The use of cages or other confinement techniques in farming is a hot topic in Europe today and it is an emotionally-charged debate. Some groups seek to establish animal confinement as ‘bad’ for animal welfare, and free-range housing systems as ‘good’ for animal welfare – but in the real world how animal welfare is achieved or upheld is not so black and white.
If we take farrowing crates for sows as an example, these may look uncomfortable to us as people, but they are actually designed to protect the piglet. The temporary confinement in the crates prevents the sow from lying on the piglets by accident which may otherwise naturally occur, leading to the death of the piglet(s).
Conversations around the use of cages, free movement and around the right for animals to have their own life, will likely continue to focus on very personal human views and values. While these values are legitimate, they do not offer any objective thinking around the definition of animal welfare based on species-specific, farm-system specific and scientific knowledge.
The question of confinement is covered by some species-specific EU legislation. An EU directive from 2007 also lays down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production[ref]Council Directive 2007/43/CE(June 2007)[/ref]. It aims to reduce the overcrowding of chicken holdings by setting a maximum stocking density and ensure better animal welfare by specifying requirements such as lighting, litter, feeding, and ventilation. Another example is the European Waterfowl sector has changed all its equipment in response to the Recommendation of 22 June 1999 of the Council of Europe. All individual cages – épinettes– have been replaced by collective cages that allow ducks and geese to stand with a normal posture, turn around without difficulty, flap their wings and carry out normal feeding and drinking movements. This housing system meets animal welfare requirements, sanitary imperatives and the ergonomics of the farmer’s work while achieving excellence in production.