Over 63 percent of Californians said they wanted more room for their farm animals when they passed Proposition 2, Standards for Confining Farm Animals, in November 2008. Two years later — and five years before the Prop. 2 statutes become mandatory — JS West Milling Company has created the first colony housing system for layer hens in the United States.
“It meets the animal welfare needs in a variety of ways by providing more opportunities for natural behavior,” said Jill Benson, JS West vice president.
The new housing system located in the Livingston area provides room for 60 hens per enclosure with a nesting box surrounded by curtains, eating troughs, nipple drinkers, manure belt, an area for perching, and a scratch pad for the hens to do their normal dust bathing activities, Benson said. Each enclosure runs 142 inches long and 49 inches wide giving room for over 151,000 birds.
Prop. 2 created a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.
Farmers have until January 2015 to comply with the new law that applies to calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs.
If farmers are not compliant by January 2015 they can potentially face misdemeanor penalties including a maximum fine of $1,000 and jail time for up to 180 days. They could also face a decrease in state and local tax revenues with potential prosecution costs.
JS West has already surpassed the deadline by five years and is ready to move their hens in by the end of the week to their new home. Staff members are excited to see how the Prop. 2 compliant housing will work with their chickens, said Bob Benson, owner of JS West Milling Company at a Monday open house of the new housing system in Livingston.
“It is pretty exciting,” Bob Benson said. “It’s what the public wants and we have done our best to give them what they want.”
JS West went above and beyond that mandates by providing an area for perching, the scratching pad and a nesting area for hens, said Eric Benson, president of JS West Milling Company.
Each enclosure was also strategically planned out to allow the hens to circulate in their enclosures.
The nesting area is located on the left side of the cage where hens can lay their eggs, which typically happens between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., Jill Benson said. Then the hens can move to the right where they can perch and use their scratching pad, which they typically use after laying eggs.
Lights in the building are also set up every 24 feet located on the right of each enclosure helping to circulate the hens with their typical light following behavior, she said.
With this set-up there is a constant circulation of birds during the day, Eric Benson said.
Changing from a traditional cage system to the new Prop. 2 compliant housing comes with a cost.
“It takes more people to serve this type of house versus the traditional house,” Bob Benson said. “There is also the cost of sufficient laying facilities for the eggs. There are less eggs to divide into the cost.”
Despite the extra costs, JS West was excited to be the first to have American Humane certified housing.
“The enriched colony housing system, proven in the European Union for more than 10 years, provides a humane alternative to conventional cages,” Jill Benson said. “We are honored and proud to be the first to install this new humane housing solution and be certified by American Humane.”
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