Do hens suffer in battery cages? Environmental preferences and welfare

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The question ‘Do hens suffer in battery cages?’ is difficult to answer because of the problem of objectively assessing suffering in animals. It is argued that preference tests may be one way of throwing light on this difficult problem. This paper describes some experiments on habitat preference in domestic hens. No preference was observed between a commercial battery cage and a large pen when hens were given continuous access to the two. A simultaneous choice between a battery cage and an outside hen-run showed a clear preference for the run, but choice was strongly influenced by prior experience. The strength of the run preference was investigated by ‘pitting’ the run against food and access to companions.