How do you like your eggs in the morning? Organic, free range, or barn-reared? 

There are some stark differences in hen welfare depending on which label you choose 


Right now, your local supermarket shelves will be stocked with an insensible amount of meat, eggs and dairy – all with different labels based on their method of production. 

When it comes to choosing high welfare eggs, it can be very difficult to know what kind of life the hens have experienced. We’re here to break it down for you. 

Organic eggs

  • Organically reared hens have the highest potential standards of animal welfare out of all the different labelling terms in the UK.
  • They are kept in smaller flocks, with a maximum size of 3,000 hens, and must have continuous daytime access to the outdoors, apart from in very poor weather conditions.  
  • Beak trimming is banned for hens in organic systems. This mutilation is stressful, painful and can prevent the hens from foraging. Beak trimming is routinely practiced on laying hens in the UK to reduce birds pecking one another. However, the root cause of pecking is overcrowding and lack of stimulation, meaning that this practice would not be needed if the birds were given more space and species-appropriate enrichment.  
  • There is no routine use of antibiotics on organic farms, and they can only be used if an animal gets ill. The food the hens eat is also free from genetically modified grain (unlike those in free-range and other non-organic systems). 
  • In 2023, organic eggs accounted for just 4% of all eggs produced in the UK. 


  • Free-range hens have daytime access to runs that have vegetation, and at least four square metres of outside space per bird. At night, free-range hens are housed in barns furnished with bedding and perches, with nine hens allowed per square metre of inside space. 
  • There is technically no limit on flock size for free-range birds, however RSPCA Assured sets their maximum as 16,000.  
  • Beak trimming is commonly practiced to prevent fighting and the routine use of antibiotics is permissible, though it is low level. Welfare standards can vary between different free-range producers due to variations in flock size, antibiotic use and whether beak trims are performed. If possible, it’s best to buy local so you can know exactly where your eggs are coming from under this system. 
  • In 2023, free-range eggs accounted for 60% of all eggs produced in the UK. 


  • Barn hens are kept indoors all their lives, with no access to the outdoors. There are nine hens per square metre within the barn. 
  • Hens in barns can move freely within their shed and have much more space than hens in caged systems. Litter, used for scratching and dust bathing (two natural behaviours that hens will perform if they have enough room), accounts for one third of the ground surface.  
  • Barn hens are usually given just two items of enrichment per 1,000 birds. 
  • In 2023, barn-reared eggs accounted for 13% of all eggs produced in the UK.

'Enriched' cages

  • Although battery cages were banned in 2012, they have been replaced by larger, ‘enriched’ cages. ‘Enriched’ cages require a nesting area, perches, litter, and more space for the hens to move around than their battery cage counterparts. However, there is no maximum flock size, and some flocks can be as large as 100,000 hens. 
  • In battery systems, each hens had a usable living space the size of an A4 piece of paper. In ‘enriched’ cages, they have the space of an A4 piece of paper plus a postcard. There are usually between 40-80 hens per caged in ‘enriched’ systems. 
  • These birds often do not have enough room to stretch their wings fully and cannot perform natural behaviours such as scratching in their litter or dust-bathing. 
  • Hens in ‘enriched’ cages are subject to routine beak trimming and antibiotic use.  
  • In 2023, caged eggs accounted for 23% of all eggs produced in the UK. 

While organic eggs can be more expensive, hens under this system receive the highest welfare standards and are not subject to mutilation or routine antibiotic use.

Hopefully, this blog has better equipped you with the knowledge of which eggs to pick up next time you’re in the supermarket (or even better – the local farm shop or deli). 

Animal Charity - Daisy

Daisy Sopel

Junior Campaigner

Daisy works in the Campaigns Team at FOUR PAWS UK, supporting her colleagues in the delivery of our wild, farm and companion animal campaigns. She has a background in animal behaviour and welfare and has almost a decade’s worth of experience working with sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centres.

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