Last updated 22 September 2020

Egg-laying hens are highly social animals with complex cognitive abilities, who value their lives like we do. Chickens possess the ability to distinguish 100 faces of other chickens, and form complex social structures within their flock known as ‘pecking orders’. Hens love to spend time in the sun and keep themselves clean by dust bathing in patches of dirt. Studies have found that chickens experience rapid eye movement (REM) when they sleep, which means they dream just like humans do. Hens are maternal creatures and, like humans who speak to their babies in the womb, they begin to teach calls to their chicks before they even hatch.

Egg-laying hens are exploited in three main systems in Australia: caged, barn-laid, and free-range. Regardless of the system they are housed in, egg-laying hens live miserable lives in appalling conditions. Although hens can live to 12 years of age, they are most commonly slaughtered at 18 months old, when their declining egg production means they are no longer considered ‘useful’ or ‘economically viable’ to the industry.

In Australia, there are approximately 16 million layer hens exploited for their egg production, 9 million of which are housed in caged systems.

Barn laid

Hens housed in barn-laid systems are not confined to cages, however they live in barren, windowless sheds where they are never given access to the outside. High stocking densities in these systems restrict hens' ability to move freely and exercise.


Layer-hen breeder flocks are kept in large barren sheds without access to the outdoors.

Caged Eggs

Right now in Australia, approximately 9 million ‘battery’ hens are confined to small wire cages which deny them the ability to perform most of their natural behaviours. ‘Battery’ systems involve row after row of stacked cages resembling the cells of a large battery, with sometimes hundreds of thousands of hens in each single shed.


The Australian definition for free-range was created in 2016 under Australian consumer law, though is quite loose, prescribing only that hens have ‘meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range during daylight hours during the laying cycle’, are ‘able to roam and forage on the outdoor range’, and are ‘subject to a stocking density of 10,000 hens or less’ per hectare (equating to only one square metre of space each).


Once eggs have hatched, chicks are sorted by sex. Male chicks, unable to ever lay eggs and therefore having no commercial value to the egg industry, are killed on-site only hours after hatching - some 12 million male chicks meet this fate in Australia every year, considered nothing more than waste products of the Australian egg industry.

Health issues

The modern-day egg-laying hen has been selectively bred and genetically manipulated over many years to lay an excessive number of eggs, over 300 eggs per year, placing huge stress on their bodies.


After 12-14 months of laying (from when they are approximately 4-6 months old), hens’ rates of egg production will have slowed to the point they are no longer considered ‘financially viable’ or ‘useful’. These hens are declared ‘spent’ and are killed. Some farms kill hens on site while others send them to slaughterhouses.