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As of 2012, the EU has banned the use of conventional cages (CC) for laying hens, causing a shift in housing systems. This study’s aim was to gain insight into farmers’ opinions on hen health and welfare in their current housing systems. A survey was sent to 218 Belgian egg farmers, of which 127 (58.3%) responded, with 84 still active as egg farmer. Hen welfare tended to be less important in choosing the housing system for farmers with cage than with non-cage systems. Respondents currently using cage systems were more satisfied with hen health than respondents with non-cage systems. Reported mortality increased with farm size and was higher in furnished cages than in floor housing. Feather pecking, cannibalism, smothering and mortality were perceived to be higher in current housing systems than in CC, but only by respondents who shifted to non-cage systems from previously having had CC. Health- and production-related parameters were scored to be more important for hen welfare as compared to behavior-related parameters. Those without CC in the past rated factors relating to natural behavior to be more important for welfare than those with CC. This difference in opinion based on farmer backgrounds should be taken into account in future research.
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