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A Day in the Life of a Laying Hen

What do laying hens do all day?

Research has shown that hens living in a more naturalistic environment were observed to spend up to 75% of daylight hours foraging – a behavior that includes scratching and pecking at the ground and vegetation in search of food. Like the majority of hens raised in North America, hens housed without material on the ground (e.g. litter) or access to pasture on which to forage, are more likely to develop unwanted behaviors like feather pecking (which can lead to the removal of feathers and even cannibalism – yikes!). That’s why G.A.P.’s standards for laying hens ensure that birds have unrestricted access to litter (for Base Certification/Step 1 and Enriched Environment/Step 2), or litter and vegetation (Outdoor Access/Step 3 through Entire Life on Farm/Step 5+).

G.A.P. Partner Fair Farm – Doing it Right

Our partners at Fair Farm, certified to G.A.P.’s Entire Life on Farm/Step 5+ animal welfare tier (check them out on Instagram and Facebook), have infused their passion for producing high quality, local food into the way they care for their hens. Both pullets (a term for young hens before they lay their first egg) and hens are housed in mobile coops on a sprawling 60-acre property nestled in the foothills just outside Boulder, CO. Hens have free access to the pasture during the day, and, at night, cozy up on the roosts inside the coop.

With plenty of access to pasture, the ‘fair ladies’ at Fair Farm have plenty to keep them busy during the day. Foraging for bugs and bits of grass to eat mean that their eggs are loaded with nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids. Foraging on grass keeps the hens mentally and physically healthy and in turns provides consumers with a healthy and nutritious protein source.

Keeping it Fresh

Not unlike pasture management for beef cattle and sheep, hens and coops have to be moved from spot to spot on a regular basis in order to keep the pasture fresh and give the land time to regenerate between uses. This keeps the soil healthy and from getting muddy and overly denuded.

So what do hens do for the other 25% of the day?

Other activities, including resting, drinking, dustbathing, preening, and egg laying make up the rest of the time that isn’t spent foraging.

Did you know? Some breeds of egg laying hens can lay almost an egg a day! Like an expectant human mother performing ‘nesting behaviors’, hens like to find or create a comfortable spot to lay their eggs. Hens are highly motivated to access nesting areas and nesting materials. In conventional cage systems, there is no designated nesting area and hens often show behavioral and physiological symptoms of stress leading up to the point of egg laying.

The fair ladies at Fair Farm are given access to ample nesting areas that include material for the hens to manipulate (peck and scratch at) into the perfect nest for them to use every day.

How awesome is this? Fair Farm’s hens even help with farm chores!

Being G.A.P. Animal Welfare Certified

G.A.P.’s comprehensive animal welfare standards, created across multiple species from laying hens to bison, cover the entire lifecycle of the animal. Hungry for more info about our partners? Read about poultry farming and maintaining good litter quality here, and about raising young turkeys here. G.A.P. sets the standards, our valued partners implement them, and our third-party certifiers audit every farm to ensure the standards are being met. It’s an important process that helps us impact the lives of more than 416 million animals annually.

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Krysta Morrissey

Author Krysta Morrissey

SENIOR FARM ANIMAL WELFARE SPECIALIST, GLOBAL ANIMAL PARTNERSHIP. Krysta's childhood dreams of becoming a large animal vet influenced her decision to study animal biology at the University of Guelph in Canada. While there, she found her love for farm animal welfare science and shifted gears to continue her education in poultry, mainly chicken, behavior and welfare. Her Master’s and PhD degrees focused on hunger mechanisms of broiler breeders and hens, and how those can be influenced in order to reduce feather pecking and cannibalism behaviors.

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