Shih An Farm, located in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City, is Asia’s first egg farm to meet European Union humane egg production standards through its introduction of enriched cages and a five-star environment to ensure healthier laying hens and eggs.
On July 5, the farm received certificates from SGS International Certification Service and the Taiwan Society of Agricultural Standards in recognition of its efforts in introducing a more humane egg production system.
Chen Bao-ji, minister of the ROC Council of Agriculture, praised Shih An Farm at the function for being the leader in bringing Taiwan’s traditional hen farming in line with international standards. “This marks an important milestone towards humane farming.”
“Our motto is to safeguard healthy diets by providing consumers with safe and quality products,” Shih An Farm Manager Hsieh Wen-feng told Taiwan Today in a recent interview. “In doing so, we are also taking responsibility for improving animal benefits.”
According to Hsieh, the farm, which covers an area of 62,943 square meters, with 35,622 square meters in floor area, invested more than NT$1 billion (US$3.33 million) last year in replacing conventional factory farming battery cages with EU-style enriched cages—an alternative designed to improve birds’ welfare by providing them with larger usable space and claw shortening devices, drinking nipple, feed trough, front and rear perches and scratching mat.
Two of the eight chicken houses have been upgraded to enriched cages, with 120,000 hens producing 100,000 eggs per day, Hsieh said, adding that the remaining chicken houses are scheduled for improvement by the end of this year.
“By then, our farm will be able to accommodate 500,000 hens and produce over 100 million eggs annually.”
Each enriched cage, in accordance with EU standards, measures 2.45 meters by 1.25 meter, accommodating 30 to 40 hens. Each bird has an average space of 750 square centimeters—three to four times that of the traditional battery cage.
Battery cages are often considered a byword for cruelty in industrial egg production operations, as hens are crammed into cages so small that they can never spread their wings. As a result, they are condemned to a short life due to extreme confinement, debeaking and even cannibalism.
Starting Jan. 1 this year, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has officially implemented its ban on using unenriched cage systems, following the 12-year probation period for Directive 1999/74/EC.
The initiative requires that all EU producers convert to free-range or barn (cage-free) systems, or use enriched cages giving laying hens extra space to nest, scratch and roost. According to the directive, cages can be used only if they provide each hen with at least 750 square centimeters of cage area, a nest-box, litter, perches and claw-shortening devices, allowing the hens to satisfy their biological and behavioral needs.
Other efforts taken to guarantee safe and healthy eggs at Shih An Farm include the introduction of zero-pollution production equipment from Europe and the U.S., Hsieh said, adding that the whole process, from hen-raising to the packing of fresh eggs, is automated.
In addition, the farm does not induce molting in hens, nor does it use drugs to increase egg productivity, according to Hsieh, who said unhealthy and frail hens are weeded out.
Forced molting is the commercial egg industry practice of artificially inducing an entire flock of hens to molt simultaneously. This is usually achieved by withdrawal of feed for seven-14 days. The point of forced molting is to increase production, egg quality and profitability of flocks.
Hens referred to as late molters will lay for 12 to 14 months before shedding their feathers, while early molters may begin to molt after only a few months in production. Late molters are generally the better laying hens and will have a more ragged and tattered covering of feathers. The early molters are generally poorer layers and have a smoother, better-groomed appearance.
Also, to meet safety and quality standards, only eggs laid by 25- to 80-week old hens are sold as Shih An Daily-fresh Eggs, Hsieh said. Moreover, ginseng, lingzhi mushrooms and natto—a type of Japanese fermented soybean—are used in the birds’ diet.
“These approaches significantly improve hen health and egg quality,” Hsieh said. “When you crack an egg laid by one of our hens, you will find it less runny and the yolk much thicker, firmer in texture, and darker in color than conventional factory eggs,” he said. “Our eggs have a richer and more robust flavor.”
Although Shih An Farm eggs cost NT$10-NT$12 each, two to three times more expensive than those laid by battery-caged hens, they enjoy brisk sales, Hsieh said.
Animal rights advocates in Taiwan have long called for more humane egg production operations. The adoption of enriched cages might be a small step towards that goal, but still does not adequately meet even some of the most basic welfare needs of the birds, such as sufficient room to spread their wings properly or facilities for dust bathing, according to the nongovernmental Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan.
“Those enriched hens are still packed into wire prisons—albeit prisons with a little more space,” an EAST member said.
According to statistics released by the organization, 99 percent of the 36.5 million egg-laying hens in Taiwan are still raised in conventional battery cages. A few egg producers have cage-free production, including three using barn-housed hens and seven using free range systems. The animal rights group urges consumers to choose eggs lain under humane conditions to encourage more producers to follow suit.
In response, Hsieh said cage-free production is not the best way for egg farms in Taiwan due to the island’s limited land area and the danger of avian flu brought by migratory birds. (THN)