Keeping Hens Safe, Warm and Healthy in Harsh Weather

Amid blizzards, thunderstorms and other extreme weather, how do farmers keep their animals safe, warm and healthy?

Safety authorities advise staying us to stay out of harsh weather by staying indoors as much as possible. That’s good advice for animals and is one of the many reasons that egg-laying hens are kept indoors.

Years ago, chickens were raised with access to an outdoor environment. But egg farmers learned over the years and through experience that climate-controlled barns provide warmth and comfort and improve overall flock health while protecting hens from the spread of disease.

The term “biosecurity” refers to measures farmers take to protect their animals from disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture emphasizes the importance of strong biosecurity with the “Defend the Flock” program to help raise awareness and promote disease prevention practices among farmers and others.

The Defend the Flock Toolkit focuses on biosecurity basics such as the importance of washing hands before coming in contact with animals, changing clothes before entering areas of the barn where the birds live, and keeping tools and equipment clean and dry to ensure farmworkers don’t carry pathogens into barns. It’s also important to keep visitors to a minimum and only allow essential personnel on the farm. Farms with strong biosecurity programs allow only people who care for the birds inside the barns.

Being indoors also protects hens from migratory waterfowl and other wild birds that can carry disease. Hens that are allowed to come in contact with bird droppings, or other biomaterial from wild birds, are at higher risk of disease that can strike quickly and have devastating consequences.

Another benefit of keeping animals indoors is keeping predators at bay. Chickens left unprotected are easy targets for dogs, coyotes, foxes, owls, and other predators. The indoor setting also makes it easier to provide hens good access to food and water, as well as the conditions that allow them to lay clean, unbroken eggs. Finally, keeping flocks inside also enhances the opportunity for animal care workers and veterinarians to monitor the health of the flock regularly.

The different ways that hens are housed indoors has been assessed by animal scientists and veterinarians. A multidisciplinary study supported by animal scientists, veterinarians, farmers, food companies and others looked at three different indoor hen housing environments and examined impacts in five areas – food safety, environment, hen health and well-being, worker health/safety and food affordability. The study concluded that no single housing environment is better than the others in all areas. They all have trade-offs and benefits.

Keeping animals safe and healthy through extreme weather is hard work but it’s a top priority for America’s egg farmers. There are many options for housing hens today, and all of them can provide for the health and well-being of egg-laying hens. Regardless of the housing in which hens are kept, when managed well, consumers can be confident that the eggs they purchase are safe and nutritious.

Photo source: Minnesota Turkey Growers

Continuing the Family Legacy

Mike West
California Egg Farmer

West views hen welfare and egg safety as his responsibility which “starts with the people in our hen houses.”

Owned and operated for more than a century, JS West is all about family. Currently managed by 3rd and 4th generation family members, the organization’s 280-plus employees are considered extended family.

President Mike West does not take his commitment to family lightly. He never says “I” but always uses “we,” realizing “employees are what makes our company.” West oversees JS West including the egg farms, which are United Egg Producer (UEP) Certified.  He realizes his biggest obligation is to JS West’s customers and consumers.

West views hen welfare and egg safety as his responsibility which “starts with the people in our chicken houses.” Managers understand they are on the front line and help foster a culture of food safety and hen welfare. Weekly production meetings ensure strict compliance with state and federal regulations. Internal and external audits are frequently held to confirm the farms are adhering to the UEP Certified and Humane Farm Animal Care guidelines.

Gary and Mike West

While attending Cal Poly, earning a degree in poultry science, West received “hands-on” training, caring for a flock of chickens and marketing the eggs as part of his course work. After a brief stint in the golf business, West formally joined the company, working every single job and earning the respect of employees.  Little did he realize, he was learning many things he uses today as President. West also draws on the wealth of knowledge from his dad, and the organization’s former president, Gary West.

A favorite part of the job for West is hanging out with employees, cultivating a productive and fun culture. He exemplifies and fosters “do whatever it takes to get the job done and done right, for the right reasons.”

The West family has been in the egg business a long time. West felt destined to continue the family legacy, and his two teenagers are developing an interest in joining the organization as well.



Egg Farming Takes Sacrifice, Brings Rewards

Nicole Puglisi
New Jersey Egg Farmer

“Egg farming takes a lot of sacrifices. There is always something that needs to be done… Yet there are many rewards that make it worthwhile.”

As a child, Nicole Puglisi was frequently on the family egg farm. Though she enjoyed the farm, 15 years ago she never envisioned working there. Then in college, Puglisi worked part-time on the farm and, like family members before her, developed a passion that never left her heart.

Emanuel Puglisi, Nicole’s grandfather, came to the U.S. from Italy and joined the Army during World War II.  After the war, he returned to New Jersey and bought the farm and began producing eggs with his wife, Mary.

Today Nicole Puglisi’s dad and his two brothers own and manage the farm. Puglisi and three other grandchildren are the third generation working there.

Nicole with the Director of the Monmouth County Food Bank


Her job title is accounting and customer relation. But, like other family members, she pitches in where needed to get the job done. “In a family business, it’s hard to have one title because there is no specific job description. I’m involved in all aspects and I don’t know what I may be doing the next day.”  Puglisi’s most challenging part of the job is navigating customers’ needs and answering their wide range of questions about all aspects of egg production.

Puglisi’s favorite part of her job is working with family, though navigating change can be difficult when family members have different ideas. “The older generation has been working for 40 years without technology while the younger generation has new ideas and relies on technology. It’s balancing old school and new school knowledge. You know each other and at the end of the day you’re family. You are always going to be family.”

“Egg farming takes a lot of sacrifices. There is always something that needs to be done. Family members take turn working weekends. Yet, there are many rewards that make it worthwhile.”


Additional Resources

For more information about eggs and the egg industry please follow the links below.