Welfare concerns in housing

Read about types of animal housing.

Farmers’ livelihoods depend on the health of their animals, so they do their best to keep them healthy and happy.

In order to keep their businesses going, farmers need to earn more money selling products from their animals than they spend taking care of them. When farmers have more animals, this is easier for them to do. But having more animals also makes it harder to find space for them all.

This is one of the most pressing issues for farmers and animal rights groups: providing enough space for each animal to live in, while still allowing the farmer to have enough animals to stay in business.

Below is a description of some animal housing that has come under scrutiny in recent years based on animal welfare concerns.  An attempt is made to address both side of each issue.

Gestation crates

Gestation crates are small pens where female pigs (sows) are kept while they are pregnant. For a high-producing sow, this may be most of her life.

On larger farms, where many pigs are housed together, these crates are used to separate the sows in order to keep them from fighting and injuring each other. They also allow farmers to keep more pigs together, because each sow has her own designated section of the barn in which she must stay.  One big advantage of this is that the farmer can individually monitor how much each sow is eating and adjust the amount of feed she gets per day so that she is in proper body condition prior to farrowing.

Although these crates allow the farmer to be more productive, some people are concerned about whether it is healthy for the sows to be kept in such a small space. Scientists are trying to come up with a solution that will make the sows healthier while still keeping them safe and allowing the farmers earn money.

Watch the video below to learn more about alternatives to gestation crates for gestating sows:

Caged housing for laying hens

Laying hens are sometimes housed in cages called battery cages. These cages have sloped floors which allow the eggs to roll onto a conveyor belt. The eggs from battery cages tend to be cleaner and are more easily collected than eggs from hens that live on barn floors.

Layer hens in battery cages.

When kept together, chickens will fight each other in order to determine which one is in charge. This is called a pecking order. Battery cages help to keep the hens from pecking each other and injuring themselves or another bird.

Some people are concerned about the welfare of the laying hens kept in cages. In the European Union, all battery cages have been banned. The trouble is that when battery cages are banned, egg prices go up because it becomes more expensive for the farmer to keep his chickens. Farmers, researchers and public policymakers are still working to find the best solution for the farmers, the consumers and the animals.

Tethering of dairy cows

Instead of being housed in free stall barns, dairy cows are sometimes tethered, which means that they are put in stalls and tied there so that they cannot walk around the barn. Tethering has not been found to cause unnecessary stress to the cows, but researchers suggest that tethered cows be allowed daily access to an exercise barn, where they would be free to walk around for a period during the day.

Veal calf housing

Veal calves can be housed either in what are called "veal crates" or in group pens in barns. Veal crates, the more traditional option, tend to make people worry more because they are small and allow the calf limited movement. In 2007, many veal farmers made the decision to slowly transition from veal crates to group housing. Check out this video to see group housing for veal calves.