What you need to know about British free range eggs

Flat deck / conventional sheds

As well as strict legislation ensuring hens are well cared for and consumers get to eat a safe product, individual farmers are able to choose what sort of shed and system they want to operate.

The early free range egg farms installed small sheds typically housing a few thousand birds.
These sheds are called flat deck systems because they are on a single level.

You can watch a video below showing what a flat deck shed looks like on an organic
free range egg farm in Berkshire.

Multi-tier sheds

Many new sheds built today are bigger and the maximum a single shed can house is 16,000 hens. However, inside the shed the hens are divided into smaller colonies – so even though the shed is bigger the hens are kept in smaller groups inside. Some farms have multiple sheds and look after 32,000 or even 64,000 hens on a site.

Despite the larger overall capacity in new sheds, each hen is treated in exactly the same fashion as a flat deck shed which may only house 4,000 hens.

The space per hen, feed, water and range access is all exactly the same, just on a larger scale.

A multi-tier frame – which is like a giant climbing frame – built inside the larger sheds gives birds more perching space and different tiers to climb on depending on pecking order in the flock.

Meet a farmer

North-east farmer free range egg farmer Phil Twizell has a large multi-tier shed and you can see what his looks like in the video below.

He explains how hen welfare is his number one priority and the multi-tier system helps the more dominant birds in the flock climb higher in the shed.

A two-year research project published in 2018 by Scotland’s Rural University and ADAS – the UK’s largest independent agricultural and environmental consultancy – found that the quality of stockmanship had a far bigger influence on flocks of laying hens than housing system.

The skill of the farmer to identify issues or create the environment in which birds can thrive is absolutely crucial, while the choice of housing system – flat deck or multi-tier – is not.