Egg farmers are vigilant in creating and maintaining a safe environment in all areas of the farm. UEP’s farmer-members collaborate with the USDA, state agencies, veterinarians and public health officials to responsibly address the needs of employees, local communities and their flocks. As a part of farmers’ regular biosecurity protocols, the nation’s egg farms are positioned to assure the prevention of disease spread and the safety of those who work on America’s egg farms.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, farms have put additional measures in place, using guidance issued by the CDC and state public health authorities to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for employees.
Personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, are provided to employees, and social distancing is maintained in the barns, plants and common areas. On-farm practices include comprehensive cleaning and disinfection of equipment and processing areas and frequent hand sanitizing and hand washing for all employees. Egg processing facilities always adhere to strict sanitation procedures required by USDA Agriculture Marketing Services.
Employees are asked to stay home if they are ill or have been exposed to the virus. Many egg farms have implemented comprehensive health screening standards for workers, including temperature checks, symptom reporting, and COVID-19 testing for employees.
Numerous public health experts have confirmed that COVID-19 is not transmitted in food. The FDA website has an extensive online Q&A, and it states: “Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”
Biosecurity protocols, established to protect hens from disease, also protect farm employees. While no two farms are exactly alike, here are examples of practices used to prevent disease at egg farms.
Egg farms may disinfect all vehicles, footwear and equipment upon entry on the farm or into a barn. Egg farmers also limit the movement of personnel, vehicles or equipment between different farms when possible. Some egg farms feature a guard at the entry point and require all drivers to complete paperwork before gaining entry to the farm.
Farms have installed footbaths that disinfect the footwear of anyone entering the barn. When used, the footbath is changed daily, or even more often, if it collects dirt, egg contents or manure.
Handwashing or hand-sanitizing stations are at the entrance of barns and other buildings. Many egg farms now use a Danish entry system, which provides more separation between the outside environment and the hens’ living area. Personnel are required to change footwear when they enter the hen house.
Some egg farms have added designated changing areas, where personnel “shower in” and change into designated coveralls and protective gear that stay at the farm. When their day’s work is done, they “shower out,” change back into their original clothes, and leave the designated clothing at the farm. This shower in/shower out system further limits the chance that a disease could come onto the egg farm through clothes or footwear.
The well-being of employees, excellent care for hens, and producing safe, nutritious eggs for consumers continue to be the highest priorities for UEP farmer-members.
Like humans, hens need quality housing. Farmers must balance and weigh the tradeoffs between different styles of housing.
Farmers consider several factors including hen health and well-being, weather protection, disease control, predator protection, economic feasibility and in-flock aggression. The ability for routine observation and specialized care are other important components when evaluating different types of housing.
The debate about ideal hen housing has long been of interest to both farmers and consumers. Farmers are committed to offering choices to consumers shopping for eggs.
Allowing hens more space and opportunities to perform natural behaviors provide obvious welfare benefits, but also introduces difficulties in controlling detrimental components that impact hen welfare. These include disease resulting from exposure to manure and other pathogens and an increase in mortality due to cannibalism.
Conventional housing is usually a wire enclosure housing multiple birds. Conventional cages provide better disease control, improved air quality, and allows illness to be easily monitored, controlled, and treated.
Hens in conventional systems also have a lower risk of injury. It is for these, and other reasons, that starting in the 1960’s, farms moved away from open housing systems to conventional housing.
The choice is yours
The choice of housing system is ultimately determined by consumer demand. UEP farmer-members are committed to adapting to meet changing consumer demands and providing consumers with choices in the grocery store.
No matter the choice, egg farmers are committed to ensuring hen welfare is maximized within the system they are using. Whether this is cage-free or conventional, a well-managed layer housing system keeps the hens safe and well cared for, and ensures a quality wholesome egg for your family.
A hundred years ago, eggs were produced in small flocks in farmyards. Hens were often harmed by predators or diseases and mortality was extremely high. Today many hens are housed inside barns to keep them safe and healthy.
Many of the nation’s hens are raised in Midwest states that experience extreme outdoor conditions. Weather can fluctuate between blizzards and extreme cold in the winter to 90 degree plus temperatures, thunderstorms and tornadoes in the summer. Climate controlled barns provide ideal temperature and ventilation to keep the flock comfortable.
Keeping hens safe
Hens are vulnerable and they cannot protect themselves from dogs, coyotes, foxes, owls, and other predators.
Keeping flocks inside also enhances the opportunity for animal care workers and veterinarians to monitor the health of the flock regularly. Indoor housing enables farmers to shield hens from diseases that are transmitted from other animals or even humans. Barns protect hens from disease-carrying migratory waterfowl and wild birds. Access can be limited to essential personnel that wear designated clothing and use footbaths and other practices to prevent the hens from coming into contact with diseases. Click here to see other biosecurity protocols.
Hen welfare is always a top priority
No matter the type of housing, U.S. egg farmers are committed to providing excellent care for their hens at all times with constant access to nutritious feed, fresh water and a safe environment.