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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
September 29, 2023

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Caged chickens may be on the way out

FORT RECOVERY, Ohio – The 13,000 hens in a western Ohio barn roam the floor, spread their wings and duck into nest boxes covered by red plastic flaps to give them a dark area that encourages egg-laying.

Three months earlier the barn held nearly four times as many chickens, but they were confined to small wire cages stacked on top of each other.

Egg farms are increasing their production of cage-free eggs – spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to convert barns by tearing out cages, installing new floors, reconfiguring feed and water lines, and changing ventilation systems.

“It’s a growing market,” said Jerry Knapke, operations manager for Fort Recovery Equity, the nation’s ninth-largest egg producer. “We see a slow, steady growth.”

Knapke doesn’t expect cage-free to ever make up the majority of egg production. However, he projects that 5 percent of the 6.5 million birds raised by the company’s 60 contract farms will be cage-free within the next six months.

The United Egg Producers estimates that about 5 percent of U.S. egg production is now cage-free or organic, up from 2 percent three years ago. Organic eggs are produced by cage-free chickens that have access to the outdoors and are fed only organic feed.

Burger King began asking its suppliers for cage-free eggs in March and hopes they account for at least 2 percent of the restaurant chain’s egg volume by the end of the year. The Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains said in September they will begin purchasing cage-free eggs and plan to have them account for 2 percent of their egg purchases by July.

The companies said the move is in support of better animal welfare.

Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, said some producers are beginning to raise cage-free eggs in part because retailers and restaurants want to offer consumers a choice.

He said retailers have told him they’ve been intimidated by animal-rights activists, who stage demonstrations, take out full-page newspaper ads and pressure the companies to buy cage-free eggs.

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